Know Your Milk Words

April 22, 2013
Sweet, fresh milk from our cow

Sweet, fresh milk from our cow

The thing I miss most about our farm is the fresh milk. It helps that the freezer still has a good stock of meat that we raised, so I have not had to purchase meat. Maybe when that runs out or when we start our cross-country RV trip, I will have a different perspective, but for now, fresh milk is what I miss most.

We sold our cow several months ago and I still find myself forgetting to buy milk at the store. It was always so simple to just go out to the pasture and just get some more milk. Twice a day, every day, we had a fresh supply.

A few weeks ago, on one of the days that I did remember to buy milk, I was at the store with Brian and he had been in charge of getting the milk. We buy organic when we can, but it isn’t always available. If we can’t get organic, we get the milk that is labeled as not containing artificial hormones. If we can’t find that, we just skip milk.

So there we were, buying milk. At the register, I checked the label. It didn’t have the “no rBST” logo on it, so I handed it back to Brian and kept unloading the cart. “This one has hormones,” I told him. He took a look. It did say “Real California Milk,” but that doesn’t mean it is free of  hormones. He lugged the milk back to exchange it.

The cashier and I started talking about milk. He was a youngish guy, early 20′s maybe. As he ran the rest of my items across the scanner, I told him how much I missed having fresh, raw milk. His extended family had a farm, he told me. He liked to visit, but “farming is hard work,” he said, “and you don’t make a lot of money at it.” Yeah, tell me about it. “True,” I said, “but you get to be rich in a different kind of way.”

Brian got back with a new gallon and put it onto the conveyor.

“This one has hormones, too,” the cashier said. “I think they all do.” He pointed to the label. “See?” he said, and then he tried to pronounce “homogenized.” If he had not been pointing at the word, I would not have recognized what he was saying.

I jumped at the chance to show off my milk knowledge. If you are wondering about milk, here’s my short version:

Homegenized–Homogenized milk has been all shaken up so that any cream is mixed in with the milk. If you leave fresh-milked milk alone, the cream will rise to the top. It is skimmed off for cream, half and half, and butter. Any cream left in the milk is blended in with the milk by some magic process. I think they shake it up while singing Elvis tunes, but I’m not sure. When we had our milk and wanted to homogenize the milk, we’d just shake the jar. Whatever was left in the jar would separate again after a few hours.

Pasteurized–Pasteurized milk has been heated to kill pathogens that might be in the milk. People who drink raw milk argue that killing the pathogens also kills the beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are in the milk.

Ultra Pasteurized Milk–Ultra Pasteurized Milk has been heated to a higher temperature and that high temp has been maintained longer than for regular milk. I think this milk will last forever in some form. Kind weird. It is getting harder and harder to find cream or half and half that is not U.P.

Raw Milk–Raw milk is milk that is fresh from the cow. It has not been heated. Producers must be extremely meticulous to make sure that the cow’s udder is cleaned. In addition, a good producer will make sure the milk goes only into clean containers and is refrigerated promptly. Raw milk is our favorite, and milk from a Jersey cow…oh, my, it is delicious! Raw milk is controversial because it is illegal in many states (yes, I’m serious), and there are restrictions against bringing milk across state lines, selling, and even more restrictions.  There have even been raids (guns drawn, SWAT Team kind of raids) of farms and co-ops where milk is available. Your tax dollars in action, folks.

Our friend Steve learned about milking a cow.

Our friend Steve learned about milking a cow.

Organic–Organic milk is produced from cows that have been fed organically certified feed. It does not guarantee that the cows have had any access to pasture and fresh, green grass, but it does mean they have eaten feed that has not been genetically modified and that they have not been given artificial hormones to increase milk supply.

rBGH/rBST-recombinant bovine growth hormone or recombinant bovine somatotropin are synthetic (you know that synthetic means “fake”, right?) versions of a hormone that naturally occurs in cows.  People who are in favor of injecting dairy cattle with rBGH or rBST will tell you that since it is a man-made version of a hormone cows make anyway that it is safe. People who don’t think it is a good idea to inject dairy cows with chemicals will tell you that the use of artificial growth hormone increases the risk of mastitis in cows (and thus increases the chance of having pus in the milk and increases the need for antibiotics for the cows to cure the infection) and they will also tell you that the hormones can affect developing children. If you want to opt out of dairy products that contain artificial growth hormones, please remember to check packages of butter, cream, half and half, ice cream, and cheese.

I’m all out of milk words. Whatever choices you make about your dairy products, please remember to check your labels and make sure you are getting whatever it is that you want to purchase.


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