Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Real milk is available in Massachusetts

Milk is an important food. It’s one of the earliest foods of agriculture. It’s a whole USDA food group. But the milk sold in stores today is, by and large, not the same as the milk that we’ve consumed for thousands of years.

As was pointed out in a recent Grist article, one gallon of commercially available milk could contain milk from cows on farms around the country--even the world. In order for the food industry to safely process milk on such an enormous scale, they have to pasteurize the milk. Pasteurization kills bacteria, but also beneficial enzymes and organisms that are part of what makes milk so good for you. Homogenization, by which cream and milk are prevented from separating, and other modern processes routinely used in milk production change some of its fundamental qualities, making modern milk unlike the milk of the 1920s and earlier.

In a few places in the country, raw milk is available for sale, usually only directly from the farmer and not through a store. In Massachusetts, licensed raw milk dairy farmers can sell their own raw milk on their own farms. These raw milk producers are usually small, and are held to very high standards by the USDA. The USDA has cracked down on milk buying clubs, farmers who sell their milk raw, and even people who carpool to farms to buy raw milk, in places where these are prohibited by law.

While organic baby spinach and ground turkey are knowingly sold in this country with contaminants, and food recalls remain optional even in cases where people are sickened or die from food poisoning from a known source, raw milk sold directly from its farm of origin continues to be treated as a dangerous substance.


“The War on Real Milk” has been documented by Kristin Canty, independent film producer and director, small farms advocate, and Massachusetts local, in her debut film, “Farmageddon; The Unseen War on American Family Farms.” Canty tells the stories of farmers who people trust with their lives, their livelihoods destroyed in the name of public health. People fighting for access to raw milk are part of a political movement based on the freedom to choose what we put into our bodies.

My husband and I put our trust in our local farmers, not the USDA. This weekend there were at least two raw milk related events on farms in the “hill country” of  the northern Pioneer Valley. SideHill Farm, in Ashfield, held their “Raw Dairy Days” on Saturday afternoon. While we were late for the tour, any time is a good time to visit the farm stand: a shed full of freezers and refrigerators, where we stocked up on raw milk and frozen beef from their grass-fed herd of Normandes and Jerseys. Most milk sold in the US today is from dairy cattle of only one breed, the Holstein, which was bred for high milk production.

SideHill Farm is revered in these parts for their incredibly creamy yogurt, available for sale in area groceries as well as from the farm stand: I got a quart of that, too. Grass-fed can sometimes mean small and tough, even for what should be a fatty, tender cut. The ribeyes we bought from the SideHill freezer were a terrific deal, and large and well-marbled compared to some grass-fed steaks I’ve had from other area farms. 

On Sunday, we met up with a group touring Taproot Commons, a small dairy farm in Cummington. Here, Sarah Fournier-Scanlon uses intensive pasture management practices that fans of Joel Salatin will recognize on sight. As readers of Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” will recall from the chapter on Polyface Farm, this method allows livestock to engage in their natural behaviors, resulting in healthier pasture, cow, and hen, less work for the farmer, and more delicious, nutritious eggs and milk. When we arrived for the tour, the henhouse, which rested on a wagon, was parked in the middle of a small pasture. The rooster could be seen outside, guarding the house.

We joined the group of Weston A. Price Foundation members and Taproot Commons farm share owners in the milking barn. After talking about the milking schedule, we followed the farmer and a Jersey named Sparkle from the barn to the pasture. Here, we could see the hens, all within sight of the rooster, foraging along the tree line. As our farmer explained how she allows the hens to do the work of scattering the cow manure, rather than use a mechanical spreader, we stood in a semicircle around one tidy job and nodded. Next, we all picked our way across the mud to a neighboring pasture, and Sparkle joined two other cows, both Swiss. With the birth of Sparkle’s calf, Taproot Commons now has three dairy cattle in production. Fournier-Scanlon hopes to harness the new calf when it is older, to plow her vegetable fields.

Unlike commercial milk, which is both pasteurized and homogenized, raw milk separates into cream and skim milk. Shake the jar before pouring yourself a glass, and use it within five days to ensure freshness. The flavor is more complex, with sweet notes of pasture. If you like milk, or remember liking it as a child, raw milk will transport you with its purity of flavor. Normandes, Jerseys, and Swiss cows are all prized for the qualities of their milk, particularly in cheesemaking, because it is high in fat and protein.

After the Taproot Commons Farm tour, trays of milkshakes were passed around, and members of the local Weston A. Price Foundation sat at picnic tables and shared their packed lunches. If you would like to try raw milk and you live in Massachusetts, you can purchase a half-gallon jar from a local farmer who is authorized to sell raw dairy. Prices vary, but expect to pay $7 or so for your first half-gallon, which includes a deposit on the glass jar. For very small operations like Taproot Commons, properly washing and sterilizing the jars is time-consuming and not at all automated. The advantages of such hands-on dairy production, however, are a superior, raw, and very clean dairy product. As Fourier-Scanlon explained on Sunday, the standards for microorganisms in raw milk are exceedingly high, and USDA dairy inspectors visit frequently to ensure milk at Taproot Commons is safe to drink. The farmer of Taproot Commons is very proud of her raw milk’s test results.

To see “Farmageddon” this Friday in Boston, contact the AMC Boston Common 19 for show times and tickets; call (888) 262-4386 or visit For other screening dates and times, and to see the trailer, visit the Farmageddon website:

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Eggplant has a chewy, spongy texture and meaty flavor that makes for very satisfying vegetarian entrees, as well as a flavorful addition to meaty stews.
All summer, I roast them in mixtures with other seasonal vegetables, from the first summer squashes through to butternut season. I don’t peel them for roasting, though I like the texture of eggplant in casseroles like moussaka and eggplant parmigiana better when it is peeled.
There are two kinds of eggplants: the Asian and the Italian varieties. I prefer the long, skinny, Asian eggplants for roasting, because they have almost no seeds and so have a superior texture. When I'm making a casserole, I go for the more familiar (to me) Italian style eggplants, which are about the size and shape of a butternut squash: up to a foot long, and usually with a shiny black skin, although both Italian and Asian eggplants come in colors from milky white through purple to black.
Eggplant parmigiana doesn’t have to be drenched in melted mozzarella. I made some recently that was very good, and proof that you only need a small shaving of Parmesan cheese to top this dish. The richness comes from the fried eggplant. Between the crumb coating and the creamy eggplant, it has a satisfying, comforting texture. For a light meal, I serve it as the main dish with some salad or cooked greens.
To make a heartier meal, it’s terrific as an eggplant parm hero on Italian bread. Toast the bread and eggplant parm serving separately, then assemble the sandwich.
I make my own breadcrumbs. I only eat good bread, and I don’t want to eat the toasted, broken leftovers of who knows what kind of white bread, that is sold in cans in the grocery store. I save the heels of bread loaves, or any that’s threatening to go stale, in the freezer. When I have a bunch of bread scraps, I cube the bread, then pulse the frozen bread cubes in the food processor until it’s a coarse meal. I freeze the crumbs and grab a handful whenever I need them: for breading and frying cutlets, to go in meatloaf or on top of a casserole. I
also make my own tomato sauce, especially at this time of year when I can make it from fresh. Use your favorite kind. A nice fresh marinara with herbs is a good choice.
This is great as an entree with a side of greens, or as a light, starchy side dish.

Eggplant parmigiana

Makes 4 servings as an entree.
Doubling Notes: This recipe may be doubled. Use a larger casserole dish. Baking time will be about 15 minutes longer.
1 large Italian eggplant (about a pound), peeled and sliced into ¾-inch rounds
3 cups of fresh breadcrumbs
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup fresh oregano, finely minced
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
3 eggs
2 cups or more of fat for frying: a high-heat oil like sunflower or safflower oil, rendered lard, or ghee
2 cups tomato sauce
Equipment Needed:
A food processor (to make bread crumbs)
A wide skillet with high sides for frying
Two pie plates
An oven-safe casserole dish (8”x8” is large enough for one eggplant; 8”x14” is large enough for two)
  1. In a wide skillet, heat the fat over a high flame.
  2. Beat the eggs with half a teaspoon of salt and ¼ tsp of black pepper in a pie plate.
  3. Mix together the breadcrumbs, remaining salt and pepper, oregano, and garlic in another pie plate, sifting them together with your hands to keep the mixture light.
  4. Use your fingers and a fork to dip a slice of eggplant into the egg mixture, then turn it over to coat both sides of the slice.
  5. Move the slice directly to the bread crumb mixture, pressing the slice gently into the crumbs. Turn the slice over to coat both sides as completely as possible with an even coating of breadcrumb mixture.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. When the fat is very hot, lay a prepared slice of eggplant in the skillet. Prepare additional slices of eggplant in the same manner and lay them in the skillet, close but not touching. Adding the slices one at a time keeps the oil hotter, which fries the slices more crisply.
  8. Fry each slice for a few minutes, until golden brown, then flip the slice to fry the other side.
  9. Remove to a plate covered in paper towels to drain. Separate layers of fried eggplant with several paper towels.
  10. When all of the eggplant is fried, place a single layer of fried slices on the bottom of an oven-safe casserole dish. Top each slice with a tablespoon or two of tomato sauce, and a small sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. Put another layer of eggplant on top: I like to stagger the slices but it’s not important. Continue to build the layers of eggplant, sauce, and cheese until you run out of eggplant. If you want to freeze the dish or store it to serve later, cover and refrigerate or freeze it now.
  11. Bake the dish for about 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese on top melts. Serve hot.