Dairy Down Low: Across State Lines and in my Kitchen

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It’s been a crazy few weeks for milk in the US. Earlier this month, dairy prices officially tanked, collapsing over $5 between last February and this one. It’s the worst drop in prices since the Great Depression, when the government asked dairy farmers to pour off millions of gallons of milk. The drastic losses have prompted 35 senators to send  a letter to Vilsack and the new administration asking the government to support the dairy industry.

In somewhat more unconventional milk news, the first pharmaceutical goats were approved by the FDA (big surprise there) as was the drug that they produce in their milk. The goats produce ATryn,  a drug approved to prevent blood clots.  ATryn is a human protein, and the gene for its production is implanted in the goat embryo, while the protein itself is extracted from the milk.

The demand for ATryn is relatively small, which is why it can be produced in this way. Imagine how many goat we’d need for GMO-produced prozac, for instance. It’s not the only game in town, however, according to the New York Times other companies are working on similar drugs using the same “technology”. For example,  a company in the Netherlands called Pharming (isn’t that cute?) is developing a protein-based drug in rabbit milk to treat hereditary angioedema. Also according to the Times, “PharmAthene, is developing a treatment for nerve gas poisoning in the milk of transgenic goats.”

The goats were approved “under guidelines the agency adopted only last month to regulate the use of transgenic animals in the nation’s drug and food supply” according to the NYTimes.

Lest those guidelines make you feel secure, the FDA admitted at the end of January that meat and milk from cloned animals might have already entered the food supply. After the FDA declared such foods safe in December, the U.S.D.A. asked corporations to voluntarily ban the use of cloned animals (but not their offspring) in their products. Companies participating in the ban include Smithfield Foods, General Mills, Campbell Soup, Nestle, California Pizza Kitchen, Supervalu, Kraft Foods and Tyson Foods. Now I don’t know about you, when I see those names listed, I think honesty, transparency, and customer-responsibility.

In more uplifting milk politics, Ron Paul, former presidential candidate and current congressman, has introduced HR 778, a bill that would allow interstate traffic of unpasteurized dairy products and milk packaged for human consumption. It’s a huge step, since at the moment, while it’s not illegal to drink raw milk anywhere, it’s illegal to buy it in some states. This bill wouldn’t make raw milk legal in all states, but it would let a consumer in New York, say, where raw milk is illegal, purchase the stuff from Connecticut, where raw milk sale is legal with a license, without being a criminal. Check out the link above to see how you can monitor this exciting piece of legislation.

In the meantime, I seem to have gotten some raw milk from somewhere, and being that I am the only raw milk drinker in my household, and that my eyes are bigger than my stomach (only figuratively, with eyes like mine, your stomach gets big pretty quickly). I was left with almost half a gallon of milk when it went bad after four days (the downside of raw). After a thorough fridge inspection, I discovered an almost full carton of Hawthorn Valley Farm yogurt that had been sitting in my fridge since October (I’m twenty-five and I still don’t clean my fridge, what can I say). Combined with some other nearly empty, slightly putrid dairy products gleaned from my search, I had about two quarts of off material. So I made cheese. It’s probably old hat for most of our readers, but just in case anyone is wondering, it took a minute amount of my time and attention, and it turned out fantastic. This is how I did it (and what I did with the whey afterwards).

Following the simple recipe for farmer cheese from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, I brought my milk products slowly to a boil, with the heat about as low as it could be without the burner going out. I stirred it very frequently, and when it reached a boil, I poured in about a quarter-cup of mixed saurkraut juice (the pink, acidic liquid left from fermenting red and white cabbage together) and white vinegar while stirring. Then I turned the heat off and let the liquid sit for about forty-five minutes.

After 45 minutes, curds had developed, and I placed acheese-and-biscuit colander lined with cheese cloth over a bowl and strained the curds through it.  I added herbs (but no salt, since the kraut juice is incredibly salty) and then tied the cheese cloth in a ball and hung it from the hood over my stove with a couple of fridge magnets (I was kind of proud of that, since there aren’t any hooks or nails or handles in my kitchen). I squeezed some of the whey out, until the cheese was spreading consistency, and then scooped the whole mess into a one-cup mason jar.

I was left with a little over a quart of whey. It smelled and looked wonderful and I went digging around on the internet for different ways to use it. That night I ended up freezing half to make soup later on, using a cup of it in biscuits and keeping the rest in my fridge for pancakes on the weekend. There’s a lot more you can do with it, particularly if you subscribe to Sally Fallon’s fermentation methods. Here’s one recipe for garlic pickled with whey, and people even make infant formula with it.

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