The gravel crunched as I rolled to a stop. Machinery whined nearby. I kept the engine running.
When he stepped out of the shadowed doorway, I handed over the cardboard box. Glassware clinked as he turned away. In minutes, he re-emerged; the box heavy, the bottom bowed.
I took the drive home slowly, second-guessing myself. Here I was, a city girl, a child of the Big Apple now living happily in the countryside. But this? I was transporting stuff Minnesota grocery stores can’t sell for human consumption. I mean, this was the real deal – unpasteurized, unhomogenized, straight from the milking machine – raw milk.
Once home, I lifted the quart-sized jars from the box and was surprised that they were still warm – cow warm. I hurried them into the deep freeze and shook the contents every ten minutes to hasten and even the chill. It didn’t take long.
Now cold, I moved every jar – but one – to the refrigerator. As with the others, the cream had risen to form a thick, vanilla-colored layer at the top.
I’ve been a whole foods, sustainable farming fan for years, but was it the allure of the forbidden that had me dip a spoon into the heavy cream? It was like liquid ice cream. I recapped the jar and shook it to redistribute the butterfat. I poured a frothy glass and drank it down.
Sweet. Clean. Cold and delicious, and something more. It tasted like more than milk.
It was worth it: sterilizing jars, driving switch-backed roads, the chilling, the shaking. I’m usually lactose intolerant, but I’ve yet to feel negative affects from this milk. I keep waiting, but nothing.
My experience is anything but unique. According to the RealMilk’s website, lots of people attribute healing and health to it. Interestingly, local advocates also stress prudence.
“Raw milk is an element of good nutrition, but it isn’t a magic elixir,” said Minneapolis resident Ed Watson, a trained physiologist and chair of the Twin Cities chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for nutritionally-dense whole foods. “Consumers need access to well-researched nutritional information, as well as the products,” he said. “However, there’s no denying that there’s a strong demand for the raw milk. I get at least one e-mail every three days, some from out of state, asking for sources.”
Despite this demand, retail sale of raw milk for human consumption isn’t permitted in the land of 10,000 lakes, or in about two dozen states across the country.
Why? According to many health officials, it’s for safety’s sake. The University of Minnesota Extension website states that drinking raw milk is a trend that “should be avoided.” The reason given is the possibility of disease-causing bacteria from the farmyard, barn, cow, or milking equipment. The web page goes on to provide statistics about bacteria counts, and instances of sickness. I think it’s a useful website.
I like having access to this type of data. What I don’t appreciate are regulations that make it difficult to apply it, weigh the pros and cons, and then buy whatever food I want – conveniently.
Science and tragic experience have proved cigarettes to be very dangerous, but if you’re over 18 years of age, you can buy a pack at any gasoline station or restaurant. If you’re a smoker, you’re provided the opportunity to read the label warnings, assume personal responsibility, and lay your money down for your cig of choice.
Are milk drinkers that much less capable making similar personal decisions? I don’t think so, and neither does the Farmer-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. They’ve taken up the cause of the growing number of Californians currently fighting a 2008 law that imposes a new raw-milk bacterial maximum of 10 coliforms/millileter. FTCLDF says its experts see no relationship between the number of coliform bacteria and the presence of pathogens (the microbes that can make you sick). David Cox, FTCLDF general counsel, writes that Claravale Farm, one of the California dairies affected by the new law, has been “operating for nearly 80 years and they’ve never had a pathogen present in their milk.”
I know. I’m lucky. I live in dairy country. And an exception contained within Minnesota Statute 32.393, Subdivision 1 means I can knock on the tidy barn door of any number of willing farmers and refill my jars. The same goes for Wisconsin.
But that’s no comfort to consumers who live and shop in the city and who aren’t on a first-name basis with a neighborly dairy operator.
But, hey, I used most of my first gallon to make fresh mozzarella. You’re invited for thick slices layered with just-picked tomatoes and basil, sprinkled with salt and cracked pepper, and drizzled with Spanish olive oil. I’ll remind you that the cheese was made with raw, then you can decide if you want to take that first bite.
Sylvia Burgos is a public relations professional who lives in Wisconsin farm country, commutes into St. Paul. She podcasts and blogs about politics and food at www.artisanbreadcheeseandwine.com .