cucina bene; mangia bene (milk: the raw and the cooked)
It’s been awhile since I’ve written a post and I apologize. I’ve been really busy and believe it or not, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block. You’d think that a chef, with so much food around all the time, would not have any trouble finding a topic to write about. Well, I finally came up with one: raw milk. Bruce & I are raw milk consumers; we’ve been supporting a farmer in Yachats: Triple D Ranch for over a year now. Raw milk is hard to come by. In order to get it, one must sign a waiver that indemnifies the farmer if you get sick from consuming it. You must buy a ‘herd share’ or what I like to say ‘an udder’. You pay an initial price for the amount of milk you want every week (we get 1 1/2 gallons) and then you pay a monthly price for the milk. This is how the farmer stays out of trouble with the USDA which really cracks down on raw milk farmers.
People have been drinking and preserving all kinds of milk for thousands of years, and up until the 1800’s, with the introduction of pasteurization, the milk was raw. It’s funny how our ancestors were able to consume all kinds of raw milk products without making themselves sick. Anyway, this post is not about the political issues revolving around raw milk; it is about the delicious foods that can be made with it.
The first is cheese. I’ve been making my own mozzarella for a couple of years with mixed results using pasteurized milk, but when I use raw milk the end product is amazing! It has a yellowish hue to it because of the butterfat and it tastes incredible.
A version of mozzarella that I am really into at the moment is Burrata or ‘Buttered’ in Italian. It is a type of mozzarella that has a creamy center that oozes out when its cut. Both mozzarella and burrata are ‘pasta filata’ type cheeses. Pasta Filata translates into ‘spun paste’. Both cheeses, along with provolone and a few others are spun, stretched, and/or pulled during the cheese making process. Most of these cheeses are made with cow or water buffalo milk commercially, but can be made with other types of milk at home.
Whole milk ricotta is another cheese I’ve been making with the raw milk. Ricotta means ‘recooked’ in Italian and is usually made with whey from other cheese productions. I like to make it with whole milk because it has a richer taste and can be eaten as a dessert or for breakfast with a little fruit and honey drizzled over it. Of course, when making ricotta, the milk must be brought to a very high temperature to form the curds, so it is naturally pasteurized during the process. When I was in Italy during my culinary training, I was able to buy sheep’s milk ricotta from a local vendor at the Saturday market in Parma which is the best ricotta on the planet! I ate it for breakfast as described above and it was amazing.
I made my own cultured butter this week by leaving some cream out to ferment (yes, that is what ‘cultured’ means when you see it on a label) overnight. I put it in a mason jar and shook it until the buttermilk separated from the butter—it’s great exercise too. I pressed out as much of the buttermilk as possible and then put the butter in a container and refrigerated it—easy and tasty. The buttermilk can be drunk as is (it won’t look or taste like the commercial stuff), or it can be used to make cream cheese, crème fraiche or sour cream.
My last raw milk adventure is kefir (pronounced ke-feer). Kefir is a yogurt type of drink that is made with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) much like kombucha. Kefir originated in Russia and is getting a lot of attention these days for it’s health benefits. The kefir that is available commercially is made with a culture as opposed to the grains, so it doesn’t contain the same enzymes or vitamins as the homemade kind using a SCOBY. The grains must be acquired from someone who has them and fortunately, there are many sources available locally or via the internet. I acquired mine from a family in Grants Pass that states their kefir grains come from Russia and have been in their family for years. Once you start making kefir, the grains must be cared for (just like a pet) and if properly cared for, they will proliferate just like a kombucha SCOBY. I made kombucha for over 2 years, but didn’t care as well for my SCOBY towards the end so it died. I hope to do better with my kefir SCOBY.
So, you can see that having a source for raw milk is a great way to make your own dairy products. Raw milk contains the natural bacteria to protect itself from spoiling during the fermentation process while using pasteurized milk creates a bigger risk for spoilage. This is because the necessary bacteria and enzymes for proper fermentation have been killed during the pasteurization process. I’ve had pasteurized milk I was trying to turn into mozzarella never develop because it was basically dead. I am currently in the process of making cottage cheese (it takes 24-48 hours for the raw milk to develop curds) so will post again on the results along with the other dairy products I’ve made. A presto!