Unpasteurised milk from a small herd of friesian holstein cows
“Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurised, which is the process of heating it to a high temperature then cooling it quickly before bottling,” explains Steve Hook of Hook & Son. “Pasteurisation physically alters and de-natures the proteins in the milk, rendering it an entirely different product. So while they’re both called milk and they’re both white in colour, that is where the similarity ends.”
Pasteurisation strips the milk of pathogens, meaning that on an industrial dairy farm hundreds of cows can be milked every hour with little concern for their condition. By comparison, Hook and Son’s cows are milked just twice a day and the process is monitored with painstaking precision.
“Our milking system is super hygienic. Whoever is milking the cow has to treat the milking parlour as an area of food production, not an agricultural production system, so it requires a different mindset,” Steve continues.
“We spend an awful lot of time on teat preparation. If any bad bacteria has gotten into the teat it will go to the end of it, so we manually strip that first milk away. We then clean the teat with antiseptic treatment so it’s spotlessly clean and sterile.”
Freshest milk in London
The milk is separated from the cream seconds after leaving the cow, pouring straight into the tank where it is cooled to 2C before being passed through three filter processes. From cow to bottle, the process takes a day, maximum. “It’s the freshest milk in London,” says Steve. “The sweetness of the milk is a measure of how fresh it is.”
Hook and Son’s herd of 80 friesian holstein cows are grass-fed—“so they produce less milk, but I believe it’s of a higher quality”—free to roam the rich pastures of the Pevensey Levels in summer and fed nothing but organic silage under the shelter of a spacious barn in winter.
Not only do these environmental conditions mean the cows live longer, happier lives, but the grass imbues the milk with flavour and nutrients. “When people first try it, they are usually surprised by just how lovely the taste is,” smiles Steve. “But they’re also surprised by how ‘clean’ it is—and by that I mean the lack of funny, residual aftertaste, which you get with pasteurised milk.”
Raw milk stays fresh for five to seven days before the lactose begins to turn to lactic acid, effectively ‘pickling’ the milk. “The biology of raw milk is incredible—it begins to preserve itself, effectively. Pasteurised milk doesn’t do that. At this stage it is not ‘off’, it will just taste a little bit sour. It’s a case of personal preference in terms of taste.”
If, however, you find you’re not a fan of the slightly cheesier flavour at this later stage, Steve recommends using any leftovers in savoury cooking. “It is absolutely fine to consume,” he implores. “We suggest using it in scrambled eggs or mashed potatoes—however you like, really—you can turn it into yoghurt, or wait a little longer for it to separate naturally into fats, whey and curds, which you can use to make your own cheese.”
While admittedly it takes a certain level of commitment to start churning out wheels of comte, homemade yoghurt couldn’t be simpler—all you need is milk and a yoghurt starter, saved from an old batch of yoghurt: try Tom Hunt’s quick and easy recipe to get you started.
If you’re feeling super indulgent, knock up Borough Market demonstration chef Beca Lyne-Pirkis’ ultimate Borough Market milkshake.