Saturday, October 30, 2010

Food Group: October Recap ~ Tips for Choosing a Raw Milk Source

Thank you to Charlotte Smith of Champoeg Creamery for being our wonderful guest at the October Food Group! In addition to sampling pure, delicious, raw cow's milk and farm fresh feta cheese, we spent the evening learning from Charlotte about the importance of sourcing high quality, nourishing foods from farmers who follow high standards of farming practices and offer transparent relationships with their customers.

In summary of the evening's conversation, all raw milk is not created equal. Charlotte shared helpful criteria for choosing a local raw milk source, and the following types of questions and considerations will help families make the most nutritious choices when deciding on a farm to support:

Sanitation Practices
Milking can be a messy chore! Check out the anatomy of a cow and see for yourself the proximity between the udder and other critical-bodily-function-performing-bits-of-anatomy.

Does the farmer use a milking machine? Is it cleaned regularly with a bleach and vinegar solution? Are milk jars properly sanitized? Is milk chilled immediately to the 40° Fahrenheit minimum? How? Ice-water? Stainless steel chiller?

The Health of the Cow
A cow's health and the health of its pasture are interrelated (think about the way that human health and the human diet are interrelated)...

Does the cow look healthy? Does she have vibrant, curious eyes? What breed is she? Older rather than newer breeds (Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Milking Shorthorn vs. Holstein, etc.) will produce milk with the A2 beta casein protein, whereas newer, over-bred cows are producing mutant A1 beta casein which has been linked to increased risk of childhood diabetes, heart disease, and negative affects related to schizophrenia and autism. (I encourage you to begin your own research if this interests you; see and also the interesting Lay Summary of Beta Casein A1 and A2 in Milk and Human Health by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.)

The Health of the Pasture/Soil/Feed
Semantics, semantics. Marketing buzzwords in combination with eager, under-informed consumers could spell potential disaster. Grass fed does not equal lawn-clipping appetizers served before a large meal of corn and soy.

Are the cows on pasture? Healthy cows in Oregon should be on rotated pasture for 7-9 months out of the year on grass that stands 4-7" tall. Are the cows given minerals and good quality alfalfa hay? If they are fed supplemental grain, it should be void of corn and soy (which upset the bacterial ecology of the cow's rumen and makes them susceptible to carrying food borne illness bacteria - see why real cows eat grass), and it should not exceed 1% of the animal's body weight (8-10lbs.).

Taking all of these factors into consideration, it's easy to understand why high quality raw milk farmers are so passionate and invested in the health of their animals, pasture, and the quality of the milk they provide their customers. So much effort and work is involved; if you're in search of a source and you find suspiciously cheap milk, beware the possible cut corners in any of these areas that may compromise the quality of the milk and invite possible health problems.
This past year, a group of us took the opportunity to visit Charlotte on her farm in St. Paul, Oregon, and to see first hand her milking parlor setup, her beautiful cows, and her rotational grazing practices.

See Resources Below for Heather's Gorgeous photos of the day...

Lastly, it wouldn't be a fair recap of Food Group without revealing the truth about ulterior motives for getting together once a month. Yes, we learn, and yes, we share resources...but we also indulge in a Potluck of Delightful Edibles!

October's menu included Yogurt & Honey Brownies, Groundcherry Tarts, Homemade Artisan Bread & Dipping Oil, Apples, and Fresh Feta Cheese...

Fresh, raw milk at home in my fridge...complete with beautiful cream lines...

We've been so grateful for the opportunity to bring home wholesome, delicious milk ready for making ice cream, sour cream, cheese, yogurt...or simply pouring a tall glass that rivals any of Portland's best lattes!

If you've not had an opportunity to have your first taste of raw milk, please, invite yourself over to my place for a drink, and then give Charlotte a jingle and arrange to head out to the farm and meet the cows yourself!

Note: I'm a believer in raw milk; I love the difference in taste, the versatility of use, the natural shelf life, and the reasonable arguments in favor of its superior health benefits. As Charlotte shared, it is critical to identify a high quality source; modern dairy practices on large scale farm necessitate pasteurization and other conventional milk handling methods, and raw milk from an unsanitary operation would certainly be a health risk.

I encourage you to spend time looking into the options for you and your own family. In the process, I hope you meet your very own Charlotte ~ I believe the world is full of wonderful family farmers like her who are passionately dedicated to offering themselves, their knowledge, and their amazingly hard work to care for the land and animals, and to nourish us, the members of their communities.


~ Heather Espana's charming photos from our farm day
~ Eating Stumptown's visit to Champoeg Creamery
~ Weston A. Price Foundation - National & Portland Chapter
~ Real Milk dot com
~ The Oregon Alliance for Raw Milk (OR-ARM)

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