The last few months my wife has got me drinking raw milk. I freaked out a bit at first, my head filled with misplaced fears of catching TB, as I exclaimed: “Is it safe to drink?”
Commercial milk sold in supermarkets is heat-treated (pasteurised) – in fact it’s illegal in the UK to sell unpasteurised milk in shops, unless it’s sold direct from the farm or farmer, which includes farmers’ markets and milk rounds. There are various pasteurisation processes, but the most common one is to heat the milk to over 71 degrees for 15 seconds and then cool it quickly. This process reduces (not kills completely) any harmful pathogens present in the milk and allegedly improves the shelf life of the milk – although, personally I’ve never had a bottle of raw milk go off in the way pasteurised milk often does.
So what’s the official line? The Food Standards Agency (FSA), who has recently conducted a review of raw milk, states, “There is an inherent food safety risk associated with drinking raw milk because germs normally killed by pasteurisation may be present. The sale of raw milk is therefore strictly controlled. Older people, infants and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning, so are advised not drink it.” However, if you believe the news, many pregnant women gladly gorge themselves on cigarettes and alcohol. On a serious note, there hasn’t been a reported illness from raw milk (or raw cream) for over 10 years. The stories of TB come from the bovine tuberculosis outbreaks in the 30s, and were largely eradicated in the 50s following bovine TB eradication and pasteurisation.
But it’s in the farmers’ interest to sell healthy raw milk, right? In fact, raw milk producers are inspected more times than businesses producing pasteurised milk. The FSA ensures raw milk producers are subject to twice-yearly hygiene inspections on milk production and handling, and the raw milk is tested quarterly for microbiological quality. It goes without saying that producers have to ensure any pathogens in the milk are not at levels that could cause illness.
So, are you feeling more comfortable about trying raw milk now? I certainly am. You might be glad to know I soon glugged down my first glass of full-fat raw milk and I’m now addicted. It’s incredibly delicious and I learned it has many positive health benefits, which include a range of proteins, enzymes, minerals and beneficial bacteria that are partly or wholly damaged by pasteurisation.
I personally feel good that I’m part of a small but passionate raw (also known as green or unpasteurised or real) milk movement in the UK. More people are rediscovering the tastes and health benefits of raw, unprocessed milk, straight from the cow. And living on the Island we are lucky to have two fantastic dairies who produce and sell it.
The first is Briddlesford Lodge Farm where raw Buttercup Milk, from their grass-fed Guernsey herd, can be bought from the farm shop. They sell it in various sizes, in plastic bottles and it’s delicious.
The second is Queen Bower Dairy, which I have a real soft spot for because you buy the milk straight from the dairy and its herd of grass fed Guernsey cows, and it comes in old fashioned beautiful glass bottles that have been used for generations, some printed with the names of Island farms that, sadly, no longer sell milk. Just ask for “untreated” or “green tops” – so called because they are topped with shiny green milk tops. You know, the lids you have to gently push your thumb into until they release their grip from the bottle top. And it’s not a burden on landfill, as when you’ve glugged your milk down you take back your bottles to be washed and refilled. Why did we stop doing this?
Also you can buy raw double cream – it’s so thick it’s like clotted and a bit epic dolloped on a scone. I added to the raw dairy products in our fridge by shaking up some of this to make…yes… you’ve guessed it…raw butter! Zing! And you might also be interested to know The IOW Cheese Co. is based at Queen Bower Dairy and they use raw milk to make delicious Gallybagger cheese.
Sorry I have to end this blog now as I’m so hungry I have to raid the fridge for raw milk! Nom!