By Wendy Watkins
The Cortez Farmers Market is in full swing, offering its usual fabulous array of local foods, produce, crafts, meats, canned goods, baked goods, flowers, music and eclectica. Throw in a healthy dose of bonhomie and lively exchanges between friends, strangers, and neighbors, and you have yourself a satisfying Saturday morning.
There’s something relatively new, however, that is also for sale at the farmers market: ownership.
Colorado permits the sale of raw unpasteurized milk through the purchase of milk shares.
Here’s how it works:
For a onetime nominal fee of $50 or less (it varies between farms), consumers “purchase” a share in a small herd of local dairy animals. This is a contractual arrangement between a farmer and consumer or buyer/owner. Ownership entitles the buyer to a proportional interest in the herd and its output of raw milk. Think of it as buying stock in stock. Shares are bought back from the consumer by the farmer if and when the consumer wishes to discontinue.
One share entitles the buyer to one gallon of milk per week for which the buyer pays a monthly milk fee, sometimes referred to as a “boarding fee,” which is meant to help cover the costs of care and maintenance of the animals. Milk is delivered to your door or picked up at a central location, depending on the farmer.
Two vendors at the farmers market currently offer milk shares from pasture-raised cows: Tom Anderson, owner-operator of Orchard Mountain Farms in Lewis, and Gerrie Goodall of Bountiful Ridge Farm in Lewis.
There’s an ongoing controversy around the merits of consuming raw milk and raw milk products. The best advice is to inform yourself about the potential dangers in drinking pasteurized milk versus raw milk. The results might surprise you. Pasteurization destroys many of milk’s nutrients including amino acids, proteins, and vitamins. It also inhibits or damages other potential benefits. According to Sally Fallon, a nutrition researcher and author, “pasteurization destroys all the enzymes in milk – in fact, the test for successful pasteurization is absence of enzymes. These enzymes help the body assimilate all bodybuilding factors, including calcium” (“Nourishing Traditions,” by Sally Fallon).
Health advocates and the medical community have long espoused the benefits of eating yogurt. Cultured dairy products like yogurt, kefir, crème fraiche, buttermilk are high in absorbable calcium and provide beneficial bacteria to the digestive tract. Some advocates of lacto-fermented dairy foods, including Sally Fallon, claim they provide protection against infectious disease.
For people allergic to milk, often cultured milk products can still be tolerated because the lactose and the milk protein, casein, have been partially digested in the fermentation process. Orchard Mountain Farms will sell plain or flavored yogurt to its shareholders. Butter and buttermilk are also often tolerated by people who can’t drink milk and is available for purchase as well.
All milk at Orchard Mountain Farms is tested daily on the farm and lab-verified monthly. Find out more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
I have been making my own yogurt for decades, long before I ever owned milk shares, so yogurt can easily be made with raw or commercial milk. However, the quality of yogurt is directly linked to the quality of the milk you are using, and nothing beats the taste of yogurt made from fresh, raw, whole milk.
Homemade yogurtYou will need a kitchen or candy thermometer and yogurt with active culture for this easiest of recipes.Ingredients
Milk, preferably raw and whole (1/2 gallon yields 4 pints of yogurt)For every quart of milk, one heaping tablespoon of plain yogurt with active cultures (Once you’ve made your first batch of yogurt, you can use it for your culture; no need to buy commercial.)Cinnamon stick (optional)Vanilla (optional)In a large saucepan, slowly heat the milk until just scalding – about 180 degrees; do not let it boil. Whisk frequently to avoid scorching. Turn the heat off just as tiny bubbles start to form on the surface. Add a cinnamon stick if desired.
Warning: Once the milk reaches its boiling point, it erupts and can overflow your pan in the time it takes to turn off the stove, so keep a watchful eye.
Put your thermometer in the pan. Let the milk cool to 110 degrees – at least an hour.
While the milk is cooling, prepare your jars by rinsing in hot water. I use canning jars, but any jar with a secure lid will do. Jars should be scrupulously clean.
Once the milk has cooled to 110, add the culture to the milk and whisk vigorously until no visible lumps of culture remain. Remove the cinnamon stick. If desired, add a teaspoon of vanilla per quart of milk. Whisk again.
Pour the mixture into the prepared jars, leaving an inch or more of head space. Loosely secure the lids. Put in warm place (see below) and leave undisturbed for 8 hours. Refrigerate when complete.
Fermenting the yogurtThe yogurt/milk mixture needs to be kept consistently warm – about 100 degrees — and undisturbed for about 8 hours. If the temperature is too low or inconsistent, the cultures will not ferment the milk. If it’s too hot, it will kill the active cultures, and you’ll end up with hot milk. There are many ways to achieve the proper temperature. I use a heating pad, purchased at a drug store, set on low. I cover the pad with a kitchen towel and set the jars on top. I then wrap the jars with a bath towel to keep drafts off and to help maintain a consistent temp. (Tea cozies work well for this purpose too.)
*Note: Check to see if your heating pad has an automatic off switch. If the pad turns off unattended, you’ll end up with liquid yogurt.
Other heating methodsOptions include putting the jars inside a dehydrator set at 100 degrees; pre-heating an oven to warm, then turning off, and leaving the jars in overnight; in a crockpot set on low; or in a kitchen sink filled halfway with warm water. I’ve even heard of someone using a bathtub. Find a method that works for you and don’t worry about getting it wrong, because there is no best way as long as the yogurt has a chance to ferment slowly without getting too hot or cold.
Checking the yogurtEight hours is a guideline. Some yogurt will set up sooner; some ferments for 12 hours. The yogurt is ready when you touch the surface, and it leaves a fingerprint. There will be a little water floating in the jar. Refrigerate. The yogurt continues to thicken as it cools. If you use raw milk, the cream will have floated to the surface. Skim it off for a great substitute for sour cream or stir it in to incorporate.
To sweeten the yogurt, you add sweetener after the yogurt is made rather than during fermentation for a firmer, less runny consistency. Drizzle maple syrup, honey, or agave nectar over your prepared yogurt. Add fruit, nuts and seeds, and you have a powerhouse of a breakfast.
A final noteIt’s not true that adding culture will thicken the yogurt faster or make thicker yogurt. It is possible to “crowd” the bacteria and end up with thin yogurt. Recipes vary on quantity of culture, but try one heaping tablespoon per quart of milk. Experimentation might get it just right.
Wendy Watkins writes the periodic Parsnippet column for The Journal.