Wisconsin Milk- Raw, Real & Regulated

So you think you know milk, huh? What about Wisconsin Milk Wisconsin Milk?

But have you ever really thought about where it comes from? And I don’t mean cows. This isn’t the third grade and I expect you to give it a bit more thought than that.

Milk comes from farms, typically dairy farms.

Now big or small, dairy farms are complex businesses with a whole host of business concerns. Some unique to their industry, and others much the same as any of America’s great companies.

One of the concerns that seem particularly relevant to dairy farms as businesses is government regulation. Now I don’t fall into the camp that says the central government is bad and its sole purpose of existence is to deny you or me our inalienable rights to happiness. But that doesn’t mean the big G always knows what’s best either. Still I recognize, especially when it comes to food production, that certain standards and practices need to be regulated for the health of the consumer as well as the health of the dairy industry. It’s a complicated formula of free market vs. the concerns of the population as a whole. And though I’m sure it’s an imperfect balance at times, I will say the state of America’s farms makes me proud of this country.

That’s because there’s room for different ideas, different practices and wholly different philosophies.

I realize this is a rather long-winded introduction. But let’s face it– it’s a complicated subject and I am just a little ole (big city) food blogger. I don’t have all the answers. But what I do have is a point-of-view. So I am here to present a peek into the Dairy Farms of Wisconsin from one man’s perspective.

WI Dairy FarmThat’s because I was recently invited by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board to come and taste Wisconsin cheese. Cheese from many makers. Cheese made in different styles and with different philosophies.

It was a spectacular trip and I have to give thanks to the milk board, the cheese makers and (heck, why not?) all the great folks of the entire state of Wisconsin for treating me to a once in a lifetime experience. And I also want you to know that I am going to have a lot to say about Wisconsin cheese in the coming weeks (months??) so get ready because I learned quite a bit and I am busting at the seams to pass that information along.

But before we get to cheese. I want to talk about milk. Cow’s milk in this instance.

Wisconsin Milk

I know you know milk. You have probably consumed oceans of it in your lifetime. You buy milk in the store. It has certain health benefits, it’s good with cereal, it’s indispensable in cooking, and it tastes real good.

But the milk I’m describing, the milk you are used to– is pasteurized milk. Which means it has been exposed briefly to high temperatures to destroy micro-organisms and prevent fermentation. That sounds like a pretty good thing and it’s one layer in some of that government regulation I mentioned earlier. It’s an instance of the government protecting us, right? Well, I’m on the fence about that one so I’ll just answer maybe.

Because there is another type of milk, it’s quite likely you have never tasted it. It’s called raw milk– milk as nature intended, straight from the cow. Set a glass on the counter and watch it separate into milk and cream. Store bought pasteurized milk will not do that.

dairy cowWell until this trip this big city boy had never tasted raw milk. I have sought out cultured milk and cream before for cooking and butter making, but even that is not quite the same as raw milk. That’s why I am very excited to say I was able to taste raw milk on this trip.

Now no offense to my beloved state of California, but Wisconsin is a dairy lover’s Mecca. It’s the perfect place for my introduction to raw milk and I am so happy to have had the experience.

Raw milk is a complicated issue. So I am not going to say where I tasted this raw milk, and I want to make it clear that I did not buy this raw milk. It was offered to me as a gift with no commercial implications at all.

I need to be a bit coy in this regard because the sale of raw milk is illegal in quite a few states. While the U.S. has no laws against gulping milk straight from the udder if you like, the government does regulate its sale, particularly its sale across state lines. Leaving individual states the power to regulate as they see fit. The result is a convoluted collection of loop-holes big enough for Bessie the heifer to jump right through (Do cows jump? I mean besides over the moon).

These regulations are an attempt to protect the citizens from pathogens and animal borne diseases that could have serious consequences if passed on to the human population. That’s a fact. But this is where it all gets a bit murky or should I say milky? There a growing contingency of people who believe drinking raw milk has health benefits long lost to the American consumer.

Human beings have been drinking raw milk at least since sheep and goats were domesticated in the 8th or 9th century B.C. Raw milk is rich in protein and fat. Raw cow’s milk was the standard of milk consumption in American diets from colonial times until nearly our modern era. But that’s no longer the case.

Because as I said, raw milk can contain any number of pathogens, so scientists figured out how to remove those pathogens through pasteurization. The process has been considered one of the great public-health success stories of the past century. By eliminating most of the bacteria (like E. coli, salmonella and listeria) pasteurization has helped decrease infection rates of bacteria borne diseases in the U.S. by more than 90% since its adoption and standardization.

Raw milk lovers have a different point-of-view. They maintain that along with the scary pathogens, pasteurization destroys beneficial enzymes, bacteria and proteins that could aid in our digestion. Some people with a history of digestive problems swear by the curative powers of un-pasteurized milk. Others quote statistics of its nutritional value and its ability to strengthen our immune systems.

WI Cheese Tour Media GroupOf course I don’t have the answer. And I can’t say whether drinking raw milk is good for a person or is an unnecessary health risk. In fact of the group of 20 I went to Wisconsin with, we were pretty evenly divided in our decisions to taste raw milk or simply say ‘no thank you’.

As for me, I was in the group that said ‘yes please’. And I am glad I did. Raw milk is rich and sweet. It’s dense in away that’s hard to describe, because after all it is liquid. But the full mouth feeling is not something I will easily forget. In fact I consider this taste of sweet, raw milk to be a highlight of my time in Wisconsin.

Besides, other than the udder I seem to be developing between my legs, I can’t say I feel any bad effects at all due to my experiment with raw milk. So moooove over pasteurized milk, there’s room for raw milk in my life too. After all, in one of those regulatory loop-holes created by the states, raw milk is perfectly legal in California.


Greg Henry

Sippity Sup

Wisconsin Milk