Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Raw Milk - The Perfect Food

Do you remember your first sip of fresh whole milk?
        Some of you may have grown up drinking it from your own family cow.
        Others may have never ventured farther than the skim milk shelf in the dairy 
            section of your local grocery store.
        Or maybe you’re like me, and your first real raw milk experience may have 
            happened to you in a far-away land. . . where little old ladies still rise before 
            dawn, pull up a worn wooden seat, and collect it in sliver buckets.
I remember my first sip.  I was camping with Max, Sveta, and Anton in Prezhevalskoye, a lake district about an hour from Smolensk.  The days had been cool and we had eaten glorious camp-fire meals and rested under the pines . . . and had become restless.  We were ready for an adventure.  
Max suggested we take a walk to the village up on the hill and see if we could find some fresh milk.  We took off - walked for about 1/2 an hour and made it to the village of some 10 houses.  At one house a Babushka gladly gave us a big glass jug full of milk.  My 3 Russian friends readily drank and passed it on to me, with words like, “It’s wonderful, so rich!  You have to try it.”  I was thinking things like, “Has it been pasteurized?  Are there live bacteria in there waiting to infest me?”  
And, so, reluctantly, succumbing to the Russian collective, I took my first sip of fresh raw milk.

It is NOTHING like the skim milk I had grown up drinking!  
It is rich, creamy.  It sits on your tongue a moment before going down.  It fills your tummy with a couple of sips.  It feels real, sweet, mellow, whole.  
You gotta try it at least once in your life!  (Just be careful and know your source!)
Since then, I have drank it many times.  In our village, Selifonova, we have a lady that we buy milk from regularly.  Her milk cow grazes on the lot next to our house - very local source!  
I drink it, but have never tried to make anything else from it.  Russians make all kinds of things:  sour cream (the BEST you’ve ever put in your mouth!), cream cheese, cottage cheese, buttermilk (several different kinds), kefir, hard cheeses, tvorak (something like cream cheese but a little sour . . . 
This New Year’s week Anton and I went with our friends, Volodya and Natasha, to their dacha for Russian banya (Turkish bath).  While we were there, we drank milk from their local Babushka’s cow.  On the way home, they stopped and got us 3 liters!  
We had so much . . . so I decided to try to make something this time.

I read several websites about what to make from raw milk and decided to make buttermilk and soft cheese.  
First, I separated the milk into two jars.
I added about 1/2 cup of buttermilk that I had in the refrig (from the store) to each jar and             shook it up really well.  This was the “starter.”
After about a day, I uncovered the jars and took a wif - - BUTTERMILK!  Really yummy!
Next, I decided to move on and make sour cream cheese - a kind of tvorak.
I kept the buttermilk sitting and waited - looking for the separation of curds (white balls) and whey (clear liquid).  It took a while.  I set the jars on the floor by the heat in the kitchen and in about 2 more days I saw this:

Pretty clear separation!
Now, at this point I was afraid to take a smell . . . I mean, we’ve all seen milk look like this and the smell impression is still so real it makes us pucker just thinking of it.  Everything I read said that the smell would be sour, but not a sickening smell, a nice sour.
I pulled off the cloth . . . put my nose down  . . . “ahhhhh, yes, nice sour it is!”
Next step - drain the whey from the curds.  
I got a dish towel, put it over a strainer, and put them both over one of my cooking pots.  I wondered how it would ever drain like this . . . but, after about 8 hours . . . 
This is what I had - Buttermilk cheese.  Firm but soft, creamy and sour.  
I LOVE it!

Sophia and I ate it for breakfast.  Just a little in a dish with some homemade raspberry jam.  Delicious and very filling!
I’m hooked - loved the process and the result!  

Disclaimer:  I am not a professional dairymaid!  These were my own escapades into the world of sour milk.  I did all of this without help of professionals, based on my own research on the internet.  I know that there are differing opinions on the safety of raw milk.  
We know our Babushka’s and their cows and feel comfortable with their products.  
If you enter this raw world, you do so at your own risk.

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