When I was a child the milk we drank came straight from Daisy, our Hereford milking cow. It was delicious, creamy, fresh, and unprocessed or raw (Raw Milk is milk in its natural state that has not been pasteurised or homogenised). When Daisy was sold, and I first tasted pasteurised and homogenised milk that had been bought in a shop. I was horrified. ‘This tastes terrible - you can’t expect me to drink this!’ I announced to my parents. I could taste the plastic bottle and the silage and I was not impressed - where was the cream? For a while I drank goat’s milk, as we still had goats, but it took me a long time to reconcile myself to the taste of commercially produced milk.
Now at long last I can imagine I am back enjoying Daisy’s milk all over again thanks to Frank and Gudrun Shinnick, dairy farmers in Fermoy. They have been producing raw milk and raw milk cheeses for over 20 years and are one of the few registered producers in Ireland. Frank is incredibly passionate about his business and the subject of raw milk. He doesn’t subscribe to the notion that milk should be produced on an industrial scale as a an anonymous commodity that is largely unrecognisable when compared to the fresh product. He feels that many of the dairy intolerances and allergies are to do with the industrial processing and not the milk itself. He supplies a lot of families whose children don’t normally tolerate milk, but can drink his milk without adverse reactions. He has had numerous customers who have given the milk to their children and have seen cases of eczema and asthma clear up; ‘If a child is given raw milk before they turn 5, or even better before they turn 1, it can make a huge difference to their health’ he says.
But is drinking raw milk a good idea? That is currently a very hot topic and Health officials in both the EU and US would prefer if all raw milk farmers would just shut up shop and get in line with conventional thinking! Certainly in the last century there were very valid health concerns associated with the consumption of raw milk and in general Irish consumer are still fearful of unpasteurised milk. This is compounded by the fact that last year the FSAI (food safety authority of Ireland) issued a report warning of the dangers of consuming Raw Milk, based on a report which found harmful bacteria in unpastuerised milk. However, the tests they carried out were on unpasteurised milk from regular dairy farmers rather than raw milk farmers, so according to Raw Milk Ireland the test isn’t relevant. And having talked to Frank about the difference in the way he approaches producing milk I would have to agree. It is NOT advisable to simply rock up to your local farm and drink that milk raw, raw milk producers are focused on producing a small batches of milk from carefully managed herds in with rigorous monitoring of hygiene and infection.
I was surprised to find that Raw milk is a growing market - in the US over 10 million people purchase raw milk despite it being ‘illegal’ in some states. In Ireland, raw milk is legally available for sale from registered producers since 2006. Many healthfood shops and fine food shops around the country now stock it and many farmers markets have their own supplier.
I find the benefits of drinking milk raw very interesting. Raw milk, better called ‘Live Milk’, is a living food. When produced in sanitary conditions from healthy animals, raw milk is a true superfood. It contains live probiotics that our immune systems recognise which are incredibly healthy for our digestive systems and therefore for our entire body. It also contains live enzymes and healthy fats, and higher levels of vitamins A D and K than pasteurised milk.
Raw milk is always whole, never skimmed or low fat. Frank gets very heated at the mention of skimmed milk: “What people don’t understand is that these low fat milk products are very unhealthy and can cause us to get ill’ he says. ‘We all need good fats to stay healthy and well’. Frank’s milk contains 4.3% butterfat compared to ‘whole’ supermarket milk which contains only 2.8 - 3.2 %. The butterfat in raw milk is all essential fat, and contains many of the nutrition which makes drinking milk healthy. For example, all the vitamin D in milk (necessary for the absorption of calcium) is found in the fat. So some companies fortify their skimmed milk with by adding vitamin D - and then charge us more for the privilege of thinking we are drinking a superior product when the vitamin D should have been there all along! Raw milk is also sold without being homogenised - so the cream is all at the top of the bottle. You just give it a shake and off you go - or if you are feeling bold you steal the cream off the top...
Overall, my feeling is that when you try raw milk for yourself it’s easy to understand why consumption has increased so significantly over the last two decades, and why farmers like Frank and Gudrun are so passionate about producing it. I like the idea of absolute traceability. Frank and Gudrun’s Raw milk is from an their own herd on a their own farm. Where is your milk coming from? Check the bottle but it doesn’t generally say... For me, the benefits of Raw Milk outweigh the risks, but everyone needs to make that decision for themselves. If you do want to try it out call in to Organico on a Thursday (or ask your local healthfood shop to get in touch with Frank!).
New in Organico this week: Frank and Gudrun have started producing Kefir and live Bulgarian yoghurt from their raw milk - we are getting the first batch this week!