An outside observer in the kitchen at the Hannaford Career Center last Thursday evening might have wondered what could possibly bring a room full of adults to be passing around a large jar full of liquid, shaking it as hard as they possibly could.
The answer was raw milk cream that would very soon be butter.
For all the blog posts on cheese and yogurt making I’ve done, I had never tried raw milk before last Thursday. So while flipping through the Addison Independent events calendar, one class listing in particular caught my eye: It was called “Learn How to Make Butter, Yogurt and Queso Blanco from Raw Milk,” and just reading the title made my mouth water. Of course, I attended the class.
The class was part of a series put on by Rural Vermont, a Montpelier farm advocacy group. The classes are designed to teach people how to vary their uses of dairy products and, more importantly, to connect people with their local dairy farmers. The idea behind this, explained intern Emmeline Cardozo, is to promote Vermont’s hard-won — and highly unusual — raw milk policies.
The Unpasteurized Milk Bill was passed into law in July of last year, allowing struggling dairy farmers to bypass the monolith dairy processing companies and sell raw milk straight from their farm. Depending on the size of the farm, the law stipulates that a farmer can sell up to 40 gallons each day, eliminating the middleman and allowing the farmer to charge a fair price for the milk.
The people in the class had a variety of reasons for their interest in raw milk: One mother said that her family was lactose intolerant, and the only milk that her children could drink without becoming sick was raw. One sought out raw milk because it reminded her of her childhood in Ukraine. One was there because she hoped to buy cows, and she wanted to learn what she could do with the milk and how she could sell it. Several more were there because they hoped to support their local dairies more actively by buying the raw milk and processing it themselves.
The instructor, Cara Taussig, described her dairy operation up in Charlotte. She owns one cow that gives milk if it has calved recently. Right now she gets about a gallon each day, and she sells the milk to neighbors and uses it in her own home.
Butter, she said, is not something that she makes often. It’s time intensive and doesn’t ultimately save money, since it is easy to find cheaply at the store. But there’s nothing more impressive than presenting a tub of fresh, homemade butter to relatives a holiday dinner.
After shaking the cream for around 20 minutes, Taussig deemed the curds developed enough to scoop out with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the buttermilk (biscuits, anyone?). We put them into a bowl and then took turns kneading the butter through cold water with a wooden spoon, dumping out the water when it was cloudy and replacing it with more.
After another ten minutes, the water ran clear as we squished the butter through the dish and it was ready to go. If we had stopped earlier, said Taussig, there would have been buttermilk residue in the butter, which can cause faster spoilage.
Next, we heated a gallon of milk from Mike Eastman’s farm in Addison. After heating it, we pulled out half for yogurt and cooled the rest for queso blanco (a simple, firm cheese typical in Mexican food and useful as a stand-in for tofu). We added apple cider vinegar and stirred, which separated the curds. And though we didn’t get time to drain the curds in cheesecloth for the several hours required, the result — more of a ricotta consistency — was still delicious.
When I got home, I ate too many pieces of bread spread with the butter we’d made. It was just too good to resist.
But the highlight of the afternoon — for me, at least — was tasting raw milk for the very first time. The first sip was a shock — it hit my tongue with an intricate web of flavors completely absent in any pasteurized milk I’d ever tasted. It tasted like fresh pasture, with a strong earthy tang. And on top of it all, a deep, rich creaminess.
Nearly as good, though, was the part when we headed to Addison after the class. We stood on the outskirts of the pasture and looked out at the cows whose milk we’d used for yogurt and queso blanco, and they looked back at us. I could still taste the creamy milk, and it was hard for me to imagine going back to drinking my standard one percent, pasteurized milk.
Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.