Some like it raw — milk that is.
If you’re a human, though, it might feel strange to drink something labeled “for pet consumption only.” It’s a loophole that farmers have to use in order to sell unpasteurized milk to consumers.
“It don’t make sense to me,” said Chris Campbell, an employee of Wainwright Dairy, a family farm that sells both raw and pasteurized dairy products. “I can sell raw-milk cheese and nobody cares about that, but the milk itself has to be labeled.”
The company’s cheese is aged for 60 days below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which keeps bacteria from growing. But to kill bacteria, such as E. coli, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends heating foods to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That heating process is known as pasteurization.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: milk straight from the cow’s udders — nothing added.
Since the raw-milk cheese is refrigerated for nearly two months, does that make it less dangerous?
According to Mary Sowerby, IFAS extension agent, “Aged (over three months) raw-milk cheese has usually had enough salt added for preservation to kill most pathogens.” Raw-milk cheese that is not aged is on par with raw milk, she added.
Wainwright Dairy’s pasteurized milk is heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, the least allowed by law, Campbell said. Keeping milk as close to its natural state as possible is better for you and tastes better, he said.
The farm doesn’t skimp on feeding its cows either. Crops are grown year-round for the cattle to graze on. In the winter, the cows get rye grass. Other times of year, the cattle are supplemented with corn, but not the dried kernels that have been stockpiled in a silo. Carl Wainwright, the owner of the farm, travels to purchase non-genetically-modified corn from Amish people. When it’s harvested, the entire plant, including the leaves and stalks, are ground up into a product known as silage.
Sowerby grew up on a farm drinking raw milk herself. Since she encountered many of the same bacteria that the cows did, she said she built up the antibodies to prevent her from getting sick from common bacteria. Now that she knows the risk involved, she only drinks pasteurized milk.
Sowerby said that when it comes to raw milk, “ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re probably fine.”
But then there’s that 1 percent of the time that you get something like E. coli or tuberculosis. While tuberculosis is virtually eradicated in livestock, she explained, it still exists in wildlife. When an infected deer or antelope grazes or urinates on the same grass that a dairy cow grazes on, the cow can become infected and the disease passed through its milk.
Campbell, on the other hand, drinks raw milk. He said he wouldn’t tell anyone else to drink it; they’d have to make that decision for themselves.
Even worse than pasteurizing milk, Campbell said, is the process of homogenizing milk. When milk is in its natural, non-homogenized state, the thicker cream rises to the top. Some people use that high-fat cream to make butter. But the dairy industry puts the milk under high pressure to break down the molecules, so that the nutritional content and flavor are consistent.
While Campbell admits that he’s not an expert, in the research he’s done, he said that homogenization puts the milk molecule under so much pressure that it “breaks the fat molecules down to where your body can’t reject it.” For that reason, Wainwright Dairy does not sell homogenized milk.
“God designed the stuff,” Campbell said. “Let it be.”