Saturday, November 8, 2008

Know Your Cows

I am fortunate enough to live in an area of Vermont where there are several farms willing to sell raw milk in easy driving distance of my house. I have been availing myself of one such source for the past eight months or so, and cannot imagine getting my milk anywhere else.
Phil's (organic, pastured) herd is a mix of Jerseys and Holsteins. He knows all his cows by name and this morning, at my request, he introduced me to them. Among them are Nora and Emma, Emily, Courtney, Caddy, and Nelly. There's April who he bought from an old man and who is shy of children and strangers. There's Blacky who is a mix of Jersey and Holstein. There's Saltine whose dad's name was Cracker. There is something so reassuring about knowing the names of the cows whose milk you're drinking.
I go out to the farm at least once a week to get milk. Iload up my M. Feller Son & Daughter bag with my empty bottles and take the six-mile drive into the Vermont countryside. In the milk shed I follow the same routine every time. I find a mug (there are usually several in the sink), fill it with water and set it aside. I take the plastic pitcher off its hook and set out my bottles. Then I take the stopper off the zillion-gallon stainless steel tank and pour myself the creamiest, sweetest milk I have ever tasted. Once my bottles are full I rinse the spout with the water I set aside, re-stopper the tank, and clean and hang up the pitcher. I leave my money in the odd-n-ends box and thank Phil if he's around and the cows if they're in the shed.
I leave the milk shed with a sense of well-being. I know exactly where my milk comes from. The tank room is separated from the milking shed by only a swinging door. My milk travels a matter of yards from cow to bottle. And I can see for myself the condition of the shed, the cows, everything. As far as I can tell the cows are happy, the shed is clean, and the milk is pure.
I started buying milk from the farm for several reasons. I have been redoubling my efforts to 'buy local' and buying straight from the cow seemed about as local as I could get. I had a feeling that its flavor would be beyond compare. I had also been told by my doctor that drinking raw milk is far better for you than drinking pasteurized milk (he told me to avoid ultra-pasteurized milk at all costs).
In writing this post I consulted several books including the Oxford Companion to Food, The Cambridge World History of Food, and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. All of my reading suggests that milk, at first glance the very picture of innocence, is the source of much controversy. There is the question of pasteurization--is it necessary anymore? is it actually harmful? There is the problem of digestion--a large percentage of adults can't digest milk. There are the good bacteria, but also sometimes the bad. However, it also seems unanimous that, as it is put in The Cambridge World History of Food, "Milk remains a singularly, almost uniquely, nutritious foodstuff, invested with elementally significant cultural and nutritional value."(700)

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