Raw, aka unpasteurised milk. Depending on your perspective you may be baffled by it, intrigued by it, scared of it or a keen advocate for it.
Sometimes I feel all these things at the same time! Flicking through Google can lead one to believe that this is the best food that has ever been created or it is a dangerous and odious sub food. This week I started to introduce raw milk into our family’s diet. I wrote the majority of this post at the weekend and then wondered if I had the courage to publish, as in publicly broadcast what I am having the audacity to give to my children. But here goes…. Eek!
Why we are starting raw milk
My husband and at least one of our children seem to be sensitive to dairy products. On the whole they seem to be OK on a mixture of sheep yoghurt/ goat cheese/ coconut milk. However their intolerances have led me to do quite a bit of reading into intolerances generally and dairy products specifically. This is how I came across the ‘radical’ concept of unpasteurised milk.
Pasteurisation is the process whereby raw (as in straight from the cow) milk is heated to kill harmful bacteria. In the UK milk is generally quickly heated to 72 degrees for 25 seconds. The British Dairy Council has more information here. Killing harmful bacteria sounds like a really great idea. However, milk is a living food and it enters our bodies which are not sterile but are fearfully and wonderfully made. There is something about pasteurised milk which increasingly seems to be indigestible to an increasing minority of people. Treating cows well, giving them good pasture, keeping them in good health then milking them in good clean surroundings seems a better option for good milk than ‘safe’ milk from cows over dependent on grain, intensively farmed and prone to recurring mastitis.
I am about to wean our baby. She is really only just a baby at 14 months old (she has taken her first steps this week!). So far she has had plenty of dairy in her diet in the form of cream and yoghurt and butter, but I have avoided milk. When I weaned my older children I simply transitioned from breast milk to a story before bed time. They may have had milk on their cereal, but I didn’t use a night time sippy cup or anything. This time I feel more convinced of the potential benefits of milk, but also more aware of the problematic nature of pasteurised milk.
Enter……raw milk. This week. For our baby, but I am also taking the opportunity to try to rest of our family on it.
Choosing a raw milk supplier
Raw milk is not available from any supermarkets. Not even (gasp!) Ocado. This is because raw milk can only be bought directly from licensed producers of which there is only about 100 in the UK. Supermarkets are not allowed to sell raw milk.
So if you are thinking of buying raw milk can I just warn you upfront that you will have either a long drive or an expensive postal order.
I was keen to find a milk that wasn’t only unpasteurised, but was also from an ‘A2’ type cow. These are cows which have a genetic profile more similar to older breeds of cow ie a guersey cow. The milk protein in modern dairy cows tends to be a larger ‘A1’ protein which is harder to digest. Since my husband and daughter seem to be able to tolerate sheep and goat dairy products but not cow dairy products I am hoping that they may be able to tolerate A2 type proteins and maybe….one sweet day…. We can have only one type of milk and butter and yoghurt in the fridge!
After researching all the options I finally settled upon Hurdlebrook as a supplier. They only started to post milk nationally about 2 weeks ago so I feel like I am testing out their services.
I have not visited the farm as it is far away in Somerset. Obviously their website is designed to impress, but I am still impressed. I particularly appreciate that the cows have a 2 months dry resting period in the course of a year. I am satisfied by the strict regulation required by law of British raw milk producers.
The shopping experience
The experience of buying the milk was very easy. A simple cart and PayPal payment. Order the milk by Tuesday and the milk will arrive at the door on a Thursday.
It is expensive. I would rather not spend £36 on 12 X 2 pint bottles of milk. However, getting quality milk is a priority for us right now so I am prepared to cut corners in other areas to enable us to do this. I also feel like we are entering into the raw milk game with the best quality milk we can find. If we are able to tolerate it well I may look for more budget friendly and local options in the future. To be honest, I am also happy to support farmers who are doing dairy farming well. There is a strong economic pressure that is pushing farmers into increasingly intensive practices.
The milk did indeed arrive on the Thursday. My husband was slightly shocked to see it came in a normal van, not a refrigerated van. However, it was all well packed in a polystyrene box and the milk still felt cool when when we removed it from the packaging. The date on the milk showed that it should be good in the fridge for 6 days so I refrigerated 3 bottles and popped the other 9 into the freezer.
The drinking experience
The first thing to say about this milk is that it is really delicious. It is thick and creamy and it really does taste very nice indeed.
I am trying to introduce it into our family’s diet very slowly. I did actually try some raw milk about a year ago but I think I gave too much too soon. This time I am trying to be much more measured, giving my kids about 1cm in a glass per day.
This is a living product with enzymes and bacteria so I am expecting that tummies might be a little bit unsettled while they get used to it. At this stage I’m not sure how long I will try it for. If anyone appears to start reacting very badly I’m sure that I will stop it right away. If tummies are a little unsettled I think I will probably keep going for 2 weeks and then review. Surprisingly I have not been able to find a lot of information around the internet giving advice about introducing raw milk into a family’s diet.
***Update*** 2 days after starting raw milk my son was actually sick one night. However I am fairly sure that this was a sickness bug as a lot of family friends have also been sick with similar symptoms. An unhappy coincididence, I think! Tummies are a little unsettled. However, I think this is partly due to the milk and partly due to a bug. I stopped giving the kids milk for a couple of days and am planning on giving a small amount again in the morning.
My initial plan of keeping 3 bottles in the fridge was far too optimistic. I transferred one to the freezer after the first day. I used one, and let one sour. My hope is that this will make good whey. I am trying to take good photographic records of this bowl of milk as it sits and slowly curdles!
Do you have any good advice about introducing milk into a family’s diet? How did your family respond?