A matter of opinion: raw attraction

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Daniel Tapper on unpasteurised milk—a product whose sale is currently heavily restricted—and why it is both delicious and, most importantly, safe

I’ll never forget the first time I procured it; it felt reckless, even a tad illicit. The reason? The substance I was attempting to source was considered so contentious that the EU and the majority of US states had chosen to prohibit its sale in shops. Scotland and Australia, meanwhile, had opted to ban it outright.

No, this wasn’t some new Class B drug; it was a pint of unpasteurised milk from Borough Market trader Hook and Son. Unbelievably, this Sussex-based business is now one of just 200 dairy farms in England—out of a total of 9,300—selling raw milk. And markets are among the few places they can legally trade.

The public health officials behind these restrictions argue that until the introduction of pasteurisation in the late 1800s, milk was the carrier of a liturgy of illnesses, particularly tuberculosis and brucellosis. The process of heating it to a high temperature, they remind us, has effectively eliminated these risks, making pasteurised milk one of the world’s safest mass-consumed foods.

Highest possible standards
They are not wrong, of course. But what we seem to have lost sight of is that we no longer live in the 1800s: cows can now be milked in vastly more hygienic environments; raw milk is regularly analysed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to ensure suppliers adhere to the highest possible standards; brucellosis has been virtually eliminated from UK herds; and just one per cent of tuberculosis cases in the western world are caused by bovine TB.

Indeed, according to the FSA, there was not one reported illness associated with drinking raw milk in the UK between 2002 and 2015, in which time over 10m litres were consumed. To put this into perspective, poultry is the cause of around 280,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK every year.

Raw milk may even offer answers to two of the dairy industry’s most pressing issues: fair pricing and waste plastic. Because they are forced to sell directly to the public, raw milk producers dictate the price of their milk, ensuring they get a fair cut of the price. Meanwhile, the majority of raw milk is sold in reusable glass bottles, reducing the amount of plastic used in its packaging.

Creamy, rich and flavoursome
Finally, raw milk is—quite simply—delicious: smooth, creamy, rich and flavoursome. Like a fine wine, it boasts a sense of place and time, changing from season to season, field to field and even cow to cow. It is for this reason that almost 20 per cent of French cheeses are made with raw milk, as are stellar British varieties such as stichelton and Lincolnshire poacher.

The best bit? Raw milk is almost always unhomogenised, resulting in the hallowed ‘cream on top’ style we remember from our childhoods. If that isn’t enough to convince you to give raw milk a go, I don’t know what is.