Milk, and all that is derived from it, is a key component of the human diet throughout the world. While all mammals produce milk to feed their young, we continue to utilize and consume milk throughout our lives — on our cereal and in the form of cream, butter, yogurt, kefir and cheese.
Fresh milk is comprised of sugar, protein, fat and nutrients such as calcium and vitamins. The sugar found in milk is called lactose. We utilize an enzyme called lactase to digest this sugar, and while found in abundance in infants, lactase declines with age, especially if milk is not consumed regularly. Many adults are intolerant of lactose to varying degrees.
As Little Miss Muffet might have told you, the protein component of milk comes primarily in the form of caseins, which are large groups of protein molecules. It is these casein protein structures that become the basis for curds, (solid component of milk) after it is separated from the whey (liquid component) for cheese-making.
Cream — the fat portion — forms the basis of many of our favorite foods. Raw milk, upon sitting for a few hours, will separate into a distinct “cream top” layer and a lower-fat milk layer underneath. Industrial dairies use centrifuges to separate the cream for use in products like ice cream while leaving the lower-fat milk for drinking. Lower-fat products like 2% milk and nonfat milk spend more time in the centrifuge.
Most milk is pasteurized by exposing it to heat for a period of time sufficient to kill potentially harmful bacteria and also is homogenized, altering the structure of the milk so that the fats never separate to form a distinct layer. These processes produce a finished product with a longer shelf life and no cream top.
Because pasteurization impacts the nutritional balance of the milk and homogenization alters the physical characteristics of the milk, many believe it is best to consume milk and milk products in their “raw” form.
Although raw milk is very highly regulated and difficult to obtain in many parts of the country, we are fortunate that Washington allows for the production and retail sale of raw milk and raw milk cheeses. In fact, a major producer of high-quality raw milk is based right here in Sequim — The Dungeness Valley Creamery.
In operation since 1992, this family farm has just been officially “passed down” from Jeff and Debbie Brown to their daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Ryan McCarthey. Producing raw milk allows this family scale business to meet the needs of a passionate and growing customer base while providing a high-quality and nutritious food product.
The Dungeness Valley Creamery delivers raw milk from Vancouver to Bothell but is working to develop a broader local market. Providing milk to a local cheese-maker and a local soap-maker are small steps in this direction. They would love to supply coffee shops and restaurants, but current laws prohibit raw milk from being poured out of anything except for the “end use” container (the milk bottle itself).
Sarah and Ryan would like everybody to rediscover the healthy benefits and delicious taste of fresh whole milk. The cream top produced by their herd of Jerseys is a beautiful sight to behold and it is easy and fun to try your hand at making homemade butter (or kefir, or yogurt or fresh cheese) with raw milk.
Why not give it a drink and see for yourself? Their farm store (tasting available!) is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, at 1915 Towne Road. Drink well and be well!