Product of the week: raw milk

Categories: Product of the week

Creamy, ‘clean’ tasting 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, who also produces raw cream, butter and ghee on his farm in East Sussex. “Pasteurisation physically alters and de-natures the proteins in the milk, rendering it an entirely different product. While they’re both called milk and they’re both white in colour, that is where the similarity ends.”

On an industrial dairy farm, in the space of an hour, hundreds of cows pass through the unit to be milked—usually twice per day—with little time for teat cleaning. Milk produced this way needs to be pasteurised to kill all possible pathogens. By comparison, Hook and Son’s pre-milking procedure ensures every teat is cleaned, sanitised and the fore milk is hand stripped out. The entire 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. “This is backed up by lab testing our milk each week for pathogens, to ensure our customers have the safest raw milk possible.”

Once the milk leaves the cow, it passes through three filter processes before pouring straight into the tank, where it is cooled to 2C before being bottled. From cow to bottle, the process takes a day, maximum. “It has to be some of the freshest milk in London,” says Steve. “The sweetness of the milk is a measure of how fresh it is.”

Rich pastures
Hook and Son’s organic herd of 80 friesian-holstein cows are not under any production pressure—rather, they’re free to roam the rich pastures of the Pevensey Levels in summer and fed nothing but organic grass silage and hay 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. “It means they produce less milk, but I believe it’s of a higher quality,” Steve continues. “When people first try it, they are usually amazed by just how lovely the taste is, but they’re also surprised by how ‘clean’ it is—and by that I mean the lack of funny, residual aftertaste, which you sometimes 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 cannot do that. Raw milk at this stage is not ‘off’, it will just taste a little bit sour. It’s a case of personal preference.” If, however, you find you’re not a fan of the stronger 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 Malou Herkes’ easy recipe to get you started. Or, if you’re feeling super indulgent, knock up Borough Market demonstration chef Beca Lyne-Pirkis’ ultimate Borough Market milkshake—a cooling sweet treat, perfect for this hot weather.