Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Now you don't need to read that whole long New Yorker story!

the raw milk collection
When I'm feeling energetic and optimistic, I love having goats. Our cup runneth over, etc. When I'm feeling weary and blue, I hate having goats. Yesterday evening, the goats were yelling in the back yard, Natalie needed milking, Owen needed homework supervising, and I just wanted to sit on the sofa and shop for rugs on the internet because looking at our family room rug makes me want to cry. There is something about a really filthy rug. The main criteria for the new rug is that it not show dirt, no matter how dirty it actually is, which probably means Oriental. Owen kept asking, what's 12 times 13? and the goats kept yelling and I was so tired. The furtive hope crept into my head that maybe the neighbors will complain about the noisy goats and we'll be forced to get rid of them.

This morning, perish the thought! We've been letting them graze on the hillside right outside our front door and they are methodically eating down the invasive Scotch broom and blackberry brambles. It is strangely mesmerizing to watch goats forage, very peaceful. I can't really explain why, but I can watch them for hours.

We now have more goat's milk than I can use in flan and crema catalana and so the other day I made cheese. To produce this particular cheese, you sprinkle a pinch of culture over barely tepid milk (in our case raw; more on this momentarily) and then add some rennet. Let the pot of milk sit at room temperature for 24 hours, drain it for a few more hours, stir in some salt, refrigerate. You end up with a fluffy, snowy, spreadable dairy product, like whipped cream cheese, but tangier. If you've had Laura Chenel chevre, this is just like that, except fresher and better.

About the raw milk. I have not yet read the Dana Goodyear story because our New Yorker subscription lapsed, though I intend to find it at the library this afternoon. I do think people should be able to buy raw milk legally, although I would have no interest in ever doing so myself. I also think people should be able to buy marijuana legally, although . . .  oh wait. Perhaps a bad example.

Because we keep goats, we currently have a lot of raw milk on our hands. Stove-top pasteurization is an option, but seems like a nuisance given the pains we already take to sterilize the bucket, wash Natalie's udder with iodine, check the milk for impurities in a strip cup, strain it through a fine filter, immerse immediately in a bowl of ice, and so on. Why bother with those tedious steps if you're going to pasteurize the milk anyway?

One argument made by raw milk advocates: You treat the product with care from the very beginning and there's no need to boil the bejesus out of it.

This makes sense to me.

And yet, what exactly does it mean to "treat the product with care?" How clean is clean enough? I don't wear rubber gloves to milk. The polite word for the back yard, where we milk, is earthy. There are earthy flies and lots of earthy chickens squawking and scratching around. Or are flies and chickens just dirty? Natalie herself is extremely earthy. Sometimes a speck or two of of earthiness land in the milk. I strain it out. Fret. The fretting goes something like this:

Me: Oh, come on! A little fleck of dirt never hurt anyone. You're such a ninny. People drank raw milk for millennia before Louis Pasteur.

Me: And for millennia, people didn't live very long.

Me: You know as well as I do that most of them didn't die from drinking milk. Anyway, you live near a hospital.

Me: I would never forgive myself if something happened. Not to me, but to someone else.

Me: If you're just worried about other people, what's stopping YOU from eating the cheese? Even if you do get some bug, you'll probably kick it.

Me: That's true and the cheese does look awfully good. You know, you're right! This is stupid. I'm just going to eat the cheese. I'll be a guinea pig.

It was delicious cheese. A day passed and I felt fine. Then everyone in the family ate the cheese and everyone loved it and everyone is fine.

Upshot: We are going to continue with our current dairying practices, although we will not be offering raw goat cheese to pregnant women, small children, or my grandmother.
such a sad photo of really good bread and cheese
The bread in the photo above is the sour cream bread from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet, an outstanding baking book. You should make this bread and you should also buy this book, but if you don't, the sour cream bread recipe is here

I would not suggest that you buy The Cuisines of Spain. I'm glad I checked it out from the library because while it's a solid compendium of traditional Spanish recipes, many very tasty, I've cooked nothing I would make again. Last night we had patatas a la Riojana which involved boiling onions, potatoes, greasy chorizo, and paprika together in a big pot of water.
all it takes to make a mediocre soup
Everyone liked this soup but me. I found it oily yet watery, which seems to be a hallmark of many Spanish soups.
no gracias
Goat kids are hard to photograph because they hop around so much, more like jackrabbits than  plodding farm animals. Not a great picture of Owen, but a fine portrait of Jack Frost.
the boys


  1. some kid (s)!

  2. I can't decide what to think about the whole dairy issue, and partly because I can't be rational about it. I'm not sure a life without cheese is worth living. The whole raw milk issue is particularly confusing. It makes me nervous when people play fast and loose and give their small children raw milk. Then again I got my daughter all her AAP recommended vaccinations, too, so maybe I'm just less of a hippie than I thought.

    I think Pasteurization is a good thing on the whole, but ultra-pasteurization not so much. Doesn't it creep you out when you see milk in the store with a sell-by date two months out? How can that possibly be good for you?

  3. Oh wow, that is a gorgeous goat.

    I have a whole lecture on raw milk, are you surprised? In short: Before I had my own animals I swore I would never buy raw milk, just because I don't know if their idea of clean matches mine. But the standards are so much higher for raw milk; the only way you can get it un-homogenized is to buy it raw (and homogenization is very likely a bigger problem than pasteurization); I am in favor of not trying to sterilize my diet, which would render my gut unable to deal with any sort of microbial invader; and raw milk simply tastes better.

    Pasteurization, at the time it was invented, was IMPERATIVE. But I think we have reached the point where it's not always necessary--each case is individual. Some dairies have absolutely filthy practices and get away with it, and they figure,"Oh, the pasteurization will take care of it." Some dairies (I'd wager the smaller ones, most likely) are extremely careful in their handling, whether they're licensed to sell raw or not. I have been drinking raw milk (from my own animals as well as from a localish dairy) for about five years now, and have never had a problem from it. I warn people, because it's unfair to suck them ignorantly into my thoughtways. But people do get a little wiggety about it, and not always in an informed way.

    Sorry to threadjack!

  4. I wish I had had a goat when I lived there...yard work was brutal.
    As far as the raw milk, we were raised on raw cows milk with all sorts of floaties. I hated it with a passion but didn't get sick.

  5. Anonymous -- thank you.
    Tori -- I think you sound entirely rational.
    Layne -- in our area there is one brand of pasteurized, unhomogenized milk. It has cream on top and I assume it tastes better, but would not know because I do not drink milk. I keep wishing I could see an educational cartoon about harmful food-borne bacteria that would explain how contamination happens. How much of what and where and when causes problems? A speck of chicken manure from the backyard? Or does it have to be something bigger, and worse, and foreign to which you have not slowly become immune (if that's the right word) by living in close proximity? Do you have to be sloppy or can you just be really unlucky? I've read so much about the politics of this stuff, but so little about what actually happens.
    Two by the Sea -- This afternoon they were going after the camellia up by the former carport. I assume you planted that beautiful camellia? Do you remember it? I moved them because I love that shrub. I felt and feel as you did about milk, all milk.

  6. I haven't had raw milk yet but not out of any firm belief that unpasteurized milk is bad/going to kill me, just that I don't know enough, as you say, about the process by which milk becomes contaminated to judge what raw milk is safe to drink. People say, "Visit the dairy and see if it looks clean", but what, exactly, am I supposed to be looking at for evidence of cleanliness?

    However, I do think I'll go to raw milk at some point because I've already gone from skim to whole; from standard whole to organic; and from Horizon Organic to localish organic milk -- this last because OMG the local stuff looks and tastes noticeably better, to the point where even my 5 year old can articulate the difference ("can we get the super yummy creamy buttery milk?"). And that's what makes me think I'll go to raw milk: the taste factor. Once I've figured out the whole clean thing ... yeah, then I just go around and around in a circle for a while. I can see why "I'll get my own goats!" might present itself as a logical solution.

  7. You have chickens, but you don't like eggs. You have goats, but you don't like milk.

    I love your blog, but I don't like to cook. We are a great match! :)

  8. Jennifer, I just wanted to thank you for the really great things you've said about Short & Sweet, it was a wonderful book to work on and as you may have heard, it's won the Andre Simon award for food book of the year here in the UK. Dan Lepard is already hard at work on his next book, which I hope people will enjoy just as much.
    Best wishes,
    David Whitehouse
    Editor, Short & Sweet

  9. I would recommend that you go to the CDC's website and read their section on raw milk contamination for reasonable answers to your concerns. The CDC is the expert about disease transmission in the US. Of course they err on the conservative side and do not recommend raw milk, but they also admit that most milk is probably contaminated after pasteurization in the dairy. They also list all the possible ways that milk can be contaminated. If you are using very clean containers, cleaning the udders, washing your hands, and your animals are healthy, you are certainly minimizing risk. As with eggs, most experts say that illness from raw eggs is much more likely to occur in restaurants than in homes. I'm a nurse (can you tell?!), and I have seen people with listeria, and it is a fearsome disease, but they all got it from commercially prepared food. The worst case I have seen was a physician who ate an uncooked hot dog. I probably did that a thousand times as a kid, and I drank raw milk growing up, and I'm still here. Luck of the draw, I guess. This is all probably more than you wanted to hear, but being well informed always allays my fears and allows me to make better decisions. I liked your examples of what people should be able to buy legally, and I totally agree!
    Jack Frost is the loveliest goat I have ever seen, just gorgeous.

  10. You just made me impulse-purchase Short and Sweet. Two days ago, I impulse-purchased Lepard's The Art of Handmade Bread. I'm out of control. :-)

  11. Melvil Dewey5/2/12, 12:44 PM

    Awesome post. I have no interest in goats or raw milk, but I still enjoy reading about your experiences with both. BTW, Melvil Dewey does not like it when Tipsy recommends cookbooks, such as Short and Sweet, that are not readily available in the United States of America. This is un-American, and causes Melvil frustration. Please explain yourself.

  12. Ei -- you will not regret this impulse. The chocolate cookies with chocolate chunks, the rye raisin cookies, the peanut butter cookies, the banana blondies, the breads . . . everything has been tremendous. Not just delicious but always unique.
    Melvil -- I bought mine at Omnivore Books in San Francisco and I'm pretty sure she ships!
    Beckster -- Fearsome disease. I don't like to see those words joined. Uncooked hot dog -- more words I don't like to see joined. I'll look at the CDC web site, although as you say, I bet it's very, very conservative.
    David -- Such a wonderful book. I'm sorry about the ampersand. Someone told me how to do it in blogger, but I didn't write it down and I knew I was writing the title slightly wrong.
    Azure -- well, we both love shave ice.
    Lee -- When you decide you are ready for goats, I will ship you some.

  13. Jennifer, I wasn't trying to scare you, I actually feel pretty philosophical about these things. There is no way to avoid disease completely, and if I had your lovely goats and had access to raw milk, I am sure I would drink it. Lots of diseases are fearsome. Do you eat raw oysters? If you start thinking about all the things that can kill you, you will stop enjoying everything. Sorry if I put a damper on things. I didn't mean to do that. I will have to pay more attention to what I say in the comments.

  14. No, no, no, don't worry at all Beckster. I didn't take it the wrong way and you didn't put a damper. There was already a damper, which is why I wrote the post. There's a damper on almost everything when you think about it. I did read the CDC web site and it's quite informative with statistics. Thank you.

  15. Thanks for the kind offer. I think I have to start with chickens first and work my way up to mammals. <-- joke. I already have children, I started with the most labor-intensive mammals possible!

    @beckster: thanks to you too, that was a very helpful comment and actually not discouraging.

  16. such an interesting post! I bet I'd feel the same as you about owning goats. Some days glorious, some days the most annoying thing you can possibly think of. I'm jealous of the raw milk and fresh goat cheese, though. Wish I was your neighbor :)

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