Monday, April 26, 2010

Organic Milk Often Comes From "Big Dairy"


We totally support the concept of organic agriculture.

Organic milk, by regulation, is supposed to come from cows that have been fed nothing but organic crops and are free from antibiotics and bovine growth hormones.  A lot of farmers are going to great lengths to provide organic milk for their lucky customers.

However, some of the brands that are sold by the larger chain stores are not all they profess to be.  Many of them come from huge corporate dairies.  Organic milk is, in fact, the fastest growing segment of the organic market, increasing 20 -25% annually. 



We get a lot of questions from customers who are trying to make their cheese with this milk.  If you are one of them, please check the label.  Is it one of the major brands?  If it is, the odds are good that it is ultra-pasteurized  (heated to a very high temperature to render it sterile of most bacteria.)

The odds are also good that it comes from one of the Rocky Mountain or West Coast states.  Their cartons look appealing because they have pastoral scenes of cows grazing in the fields, etc.




The truth is that most organic milk comes from the same kind of factories where mass-produced conventional milk is produced and it is just as useless for making cheese.

In her wonderful book, "Milk-The Story of Milk Through the Ages," Anne Mendelson makes four points about organic milk:


1.  The vast majority of organic milk comes from 3 or 4 large producers owned by vast agribusiness conglomerates.  Each one has several thousand cows.  The milk travels thousands of miles from these places to your supermarket.

2.  Most of these farms depend on the same breeding and feeding methods as their conventional counterparts- the cows are fed high energy rations to increase production, they are milked 3 times/day, and they are given as little grazing time as they can get away with.  

(Until now, the regulations referred vaguely to  "access to pasture" without spelling out how much or how little.  Recently, this regulation was clarified to require that the cows spend a minimum of 120 days outside during the growing season.  There is some question about if and how it will be enforced.)

3.  The milk is separated and homogenized the same way it is done in the other large companies-traveling through miles of pipes to have its fat molecules broken up into tiny pieces.

4.  Worst of all, most organic milk is ultra-pasteurized so it can be transported long distances without spoiling.  By the time it arrives at the store, it may be a week old.  (Of course, this hardly matters because there is virtually no good bacteria left in it to cause it to spoil.)

Our advice is to check your labels, and know what you are buying.  When you make your cheese, purchase the best local milk you can find.  If your local brand is organic, you are truly blessed.

We keep a Good Milk List to help you find sources of milk for making cheese.  If the milk is even reasonably local or if it is un-homogenized, the odds are good that it will make great cheese.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I made mozzarella today, and I used the Straus Family Organic whole milk. Their website says they pasturize their whole milk at 171 degrees for 18 seconds. Based on the appearance of the mozzarella, it came out exactly the way it was intended to. I followed all the steps and there were no issues. Flavor wise.... I think it probably would've benefited from using lipase. It didn't taste bad, there just really much taste at all. Aside from that I think this milk is a decent choice for cheese making.

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