"What's all that about?" you say. "I thought milk was just milk. Isn't it all the same?"
Well not exactly. All may be white, cold, and liquid, but it's like comparing home brand instant coffee to a perfectly crafted espresso made with beans grown on the Blue Mountains of Jamaica.
Most milk available is standardised, homogenised, and pasteurised. Let's look at what each one means.
This is the process of adding back in milk components after the higher value components have been stripped out to be sold separately then put back together at the minimum standard able to be called milk. In the processing there's devices that measure the fat/protein/lactose etc and then dispenses permeate and milk powder at the correct amount for standardised levels.
Permeate is made when milk is filtered through a fine 'sieve' or membrane using a technique called ultrafiltration. This filtering separates the lactose, vitamins and the minerals (collectively called permeate) from the milk protein and fat.
They say it's to keep a consistent product throughout the year. Come on! Do you really think a big company is going to add more processes unless they're making more money out of it? Real milk will have seasonal variations due to pasture/feed changes, length of lactation, and weather. Most people won't even notice but some do. Unfortunately, so many people don't know what real milk tastes like now.
So you're basically getting the byproducts mixed back together as your milk. Why is it that milk doesn't look and taste like it used to?
You know how cream rises to the top? (btw, for those that have never had real milk, cream is a part of milk, it doesn't come from somewhere else)
Homogenisation is the process of breaking down the fat globules in the milk so small that they stay evenly suspended. That means the cream won't rise. This is done by a machine that spins it very fast so the particles break up.
Let's go back to standardisation. Dairy companies had the great idea to take out the higher value components, sell them separately, then put it back together and call it milk. Surely people would notice that their milk was different! Not if they homogenise it. Before that time no milk was homogenised.
If you look at homogenised vs non-homogenised milk under a microscope you'll notice a huge difference. The fat globules in real milk are round and larger but in homogenised milk they're small with jagged edges. This is what causes a lot of dairy intolerence as some people struggle to digest it.
Real milk hasn't been standardised or homogenised.
So what's pasteurised and raw milk?
Raw milk is totally unprocessed in it's most natural state. For raw milk intended for human consumption (as opposed to being intended for further processing like 99.99999% of dairy farms) the cows' udders are washed and sanitized before being milked. That's how we make sure the milk is clean and free from any harmful pathogens.
The milk then passes through a filter and is chilled before going into a tank or bottles to be sold. That's it! Real milk. Mmmmmmm, it tastes so much better. It's also full of beneficial enzymes and is easy for you to digest. Most people who think they're dairy intolerant are really just processed dairy intolerant. Only a small percentage are truly lactose intolerant (react to lactose, the natural sugar in milk) which is caused when your body doesn't produce enough lactase which breaks down lactose in your gut.
In NZ, raw milk suppliers must be registered with MPI, follow high hygiene standards, send samples to be tested at the lab and be independently audited. I'll get into that another time. There's regulations about where raw milk can be sold (from the farm or home deliveries). The raw milk supplier is responsible to know who buys their milk so they can be contacted directly in the event of quality issues. It is extremely important that the person you source raw milk from is registered as this ensures they follow the above food safety regulations.
Pasteurisation is the process of heating the milk to a set temperature for a set period of time. Basically, lower temp = longer time and higher temp = shorter time. The higher the temperature the more the milk is changed from its original form.
Why is all milk available commercially pasteurised?
Pasteurisation kills harmful bacteria that could be present. Most farms don't follow the same hygiene standards as raw drinking milk suppliers and, therefore, it's a necessary food safety step. As a result, pasteurised milk is able to be sold more widely on the domestic market.
We want everyone to be able to experience local, real milk in glass bottles. There were cafes and shops asking to have a supply of our milk so we decided that pasteurising milk made sense so we could get it out to more people. We'll always have raw milk available (I prefer it) but we wouldn't be able to get local milk to more people only producing raw. We gently batch pasteurise our milk so we damage it as little as possible.
Next time you're looking at a bottle of standardised, homogonised "milk" and comparing it with local milk in glass bottles, remember you're not comparing apples with apples. One is a milk-like liquid (and you haven't even got me started on green top milk, yuck!) and the other is real, unadulterated goodness with nothing taken out of it.
The only thing better than an espresso made with beans from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica is one made with real milk.