Milk – the most underrated food in the world

So many people have either decided they don’t really like milk as a drink or just don’t think about it other than to put a bit in their tea or coffee.  When you taste the sort of milk you buy at the corner shop or in the supermarket frankly that’s not a surprise.  What comes out of those cartons is watery, vaguely mineral in flavour if you can really detect a flavour and when it goes sour, it’s chemical, aggressive and unpleasant.When I worked at Neal’s Yard Dairy, we used to hold regular tastings of the milk from our supplier Geoff Bowles at Ivy House Farm.  While this milk was and indeed still is pasteurised, it’s Jersey milk, organically farmed and has a whole heap more flavour than your standard supermarket pint.  Jersey milk has higher fat and protein levels than regular milk which more than likely comes from a rather intensively farmed Holstein herd and is therefore what people in the dairy world refer to as white water.  As I mentioned in the post about cows, Holsteins are very efficient producers of large amounts of milk but it’s not milk that’s particularly rich in fats and proteins and let’s face it, that’s where the flavour is.  Jersey milk therefore has a much richer and creamier mouthfeel but even in the skimmed milk because it has more protein too, it has much more flavour.  We tasted the milks side by side and the Ivy House Jersey milk was naturally sweet, creamy, savoury and mineral.  The supermarket (probably Costcutter actually cause that was the nearest corner shop / mini supermarket) milk was thinner textured and had none of the sweetness or savoury flavours more of a mineral that verged on the metallic.  In part this will be down to the breed of animal but also the freshness.  We knew that our milk delivered to us on one day would have come from the milking the day before.  With the supermarket milk who knows how old it was by the time we bought it.  It would have been collected from various farms, pasteurised all together with lots of other milk and bottled, sent to a distribution centre and from then out to the shops.  It was more likely to be a few days old at least.Since moving away from London and getting access to really fresh milk (minutes old in fact) that is unpasteurised into the bargain I can safely say that the difference between what I’m making cheese with and what you put in your coffee is like night and day.  In fact it’s hardly fair to even call them by the same name.  Of couse I’m working with sheeps milk which is different to cows milk in consistency, it can have rich and creamy fat content but because of the way the fats are structured, it doesn’t feel heavy and the savouriness has a different flavour because it’s sheepy in a subtle and fresh way rather than say beefy.  Those are tricky adjectives because truthfully that is what I find it to taste like but equally I can see those who are unconvinced by milk not warming to the idea of a rich sheepy or beefy thirstquencher.  Anyway, pressing on regardless, I shall continue.  My main point is that if you ever try unpasteurised truly fresh milk it is a revelation.  It has sweetness, fresh, clean creaminess, savoury animal flavours and and mineral restraint but as well as that, it has another aspect in that it tastes lively, which is perhaps a reflection of the freshness.  Supermarket milk with its age and pasteurisation is flat even at worst case perhaps slightly stale tasting.  Geoff Bowles’s milk had sweetness, creaminess and rich savouriness but damn fine stuff though it was and is, by comparison to milk that’s unpasteurised and just milked a few minutes ago, it had lost an edge.

Of all the foods that have lost their character by industrialising the manufacturing process, which include bread, beer, hydroponically grown veg, flavourless battery-farmed chicken and plenty of others too, I now feel that milk is the one that has suffered most in the loss of flavour and perception.  The fact is, most people who reckon they don’t like it, would happily drink a glass of the milk Nicola and Martin produce because it’s bloody delicious.

Milk being piped into the vat from the milking parlour – minutes old.

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