I just finished reading Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages and thought I’d share my review here in addition to those of you that are already connected to me on Goodreads because I know there are some of you that aren’t on Goodreads, but would be interested in my thoughts on this book especially in light of the recent food conversations we’ve been having all over blogland.
This book is a good read, but I rated it 4 stars instead of 5 because I was hoping it would cover the topic in more depth. The recipes take up a majority of this book, the history part does not which when you consider the subtitle, “The surprising story of milk through the ages,” I think you would be surprised too. However, even though the majority of the history/background lesson ends on page 72, she talks more in depth about the various dairy products individually like milk, buttermilk, butter, yogurt, etc in the recipe section. The recipe section is really awesome and I want to own this book now just for that (I borrowed it from the library). Even though she didn’t get into the history of milk as much as I wanted her to, I feel that I still learned quite a bit more than I have already researching the topic on the Internet.
Some of the things I learned:
-What she deems the Northwestern Cow Belt (Northern Germany, the Low Countries, northern France, British Isles, southern Scandinavia), is home to the only people that retain the ability to digest lactose into adulthood. However, this small region of fresh milk usage exported their ideas about drinking fresh rather than sour milk all over the world. Later on science figured out that wasn’t such a great idea and that most other people in the world can’t digest fresh milk.
-“Small though they look today, the East Coast operations begun during this era were on a scale that allowed tens of thousands of city dwellers to take up milk drinking as a relatively safe and affordable daily habit–perceived, however, as necessity, not habit. Medical opinion now unanimously held that drinkable unsoured milk was indispensable for children and healthful for everyone else. Doctors did notice that milk seemed to disagree with more people than any other food of equal importance.” (p. 34)
-We’ve bred our cows to be able to produce more milk, but it is lower quality as far as cream and nutrients are concerned. In 1865 a top cow produced 7 gallons of milk a day. In 1975 the record was set at 19 gallons a day. In 1997 that record was broken at 23 gallons a day.
-“The designation “whole,” though legally sanctioned, is misleading inasmuch as the milk has been separated by centrifuge and recombined to an arbitrary standard. In most states it means a mixture of nonfat milk and cream homogenized to a 3.25 percent milkfat content.” (p. 79)
-“Zero was easily attainable through centrifuging, but centrifuged skim milk lacked the flavor-saving smidging of cream that remained in the milk after hand skimming… For a long time the hardest sell remained skim milk, and for good reason: The usual commercial versions are a singularly thin, vapid travesty of decent hand-skimmed milk. But eventually processors hit on the strategem of using dried skim milk solids to add body and selling the result under names like “Skim Milk Plus.” (Despite any promotional malarkey on the label, the real difference between this and plain skim milk is not extra “creaminess” or “richness” but more lactose and casein.)” (p.47)
-“The ogranic dairying business is tremendously concentrated, with the great preponderance of milk coming from three or four very large producers owned by vast agribusiness conglomerates. The biggest facilities are in the Rocky Mountain and West Coast states, and milk regularly travels thousands of miles from there to reach retail shelves throughout the country. As with conventional milk, gigantic farm operations with several thousand cows now dominate the business. The largest farms depend on the same breeding-and-feeding methods as their conventional counterparts, including high-energy rations to increase volume; thrice-daily milking; and as much confinement with as much restriction of access to grazing as the managers can get away with. (The NOSB regulations mention “access to pasture” and to the outdoors generally, without spelling out how much or little.) Milk entering the pool at large organic dairies is separated and homogenized by the same arbitrary numbers games as conventional milk. The milk is also usually ultrapasteurized, the better to transport it across vast distances and permit weeks rather than days between time of milking and time of use. So far, the major organic-dairy producers have managed to cash in on the widespread popular view of pure, simple, pastoral, animal-friendly organic food without acknowledging how little their wares justify the image. In fact, milk is one of the fastest-growing segements of the organic market… But this is one gift horse that really should be looked in the mouth. Why should we support new-style versions of factory farming clad in the airs of moral superiority to factory farming?” (p.59)
-“If you could see and taste the milk of one cow’s, doe’s, ewe’s, or woman’s milking cycle, from the time she stops producing colostrum to the time when the young animal says farewell to nursing, it would be shot through with huge variations. Milk shifts in makeup not only throughout one lactation, but from the beginning to the end of one day. Indeed, the first and last mouthfuls that an infant swallows at a single nursing ordinarily differ in composition (the final dribs and drabs being the highest in fat). And this is to ignore the question of how one individual cow’s, doe’s, ewe’s, or woman’s milk differs from that of others in her species, herd or bridge club.” (p. 62)
-Through the “white magic” experiments she has you do to show the various phases of milk I found out that skim milk has the most lactose and least casein while cream and butter have the most casein and least lactose. I found this extremely interesting! My husband has always said that he thinks he is slightly lactose intolerant, but when one considers that he usually has trouble with cream and butter rather than lower fat percentage milks/yogurts it seems to point to a problem with casein and not lactose. And so I think I may now know where our daughter got her casein allergy issues.