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not all milk is created equal...

Posted by Simon Bryant

Date posted:

Pictures of happy herds on rolling lush pastures featured on product labels may not always be the case...

Imagine if the milk you drank was purchased at marginal prices from dairy farmers far and wide. The cows were in "full housing" and not free to access real pasture for the duration of their lives. Alternatively cows from huge herds walked for far too many miles per day from fairly barren fields to milking areas and then sent to concrete feed pads for prolonged periods (due to a lack of natural pasture), maybe resulting in lameness.

All this milk, regardless of origin, was then thrown together at one plant; permeated (a separation technology basically used to eliminate any seasonal differences and to produce a consistent product); and then cold chained for miles to a depot before being finally dispatched to your local shop.

Unfortunately this scenario is not fantasy as trends overseas are moving more towards full housing dairy farming and larger herds. There are however still producers out there making great milk and looking after both their land and cows' best interests. It's not just about getting the cheapest white stuff in a bottle; cheap prices on food nearly always have a consequence for our farmers, their land or animals.

If you love coffee you will probably love Jersey milk, these little cows were hugely popular until a turn around half way through last century. It might just be why your Gran says, "Milk just doesn't taste the same these days!"

In the words of Dan McCaul from Alexandrina Dairy, "The large globules (of fat in Jersey milk) help the feel in the mouth, and also digestion. Homogenization smashes them. So we don't homogenize the milk. We're anti smash."

Years ago Becky McCaul sent me an email ending with, "This photograph is Nigella. She is my newest little calf! I love her!" I still smile when I think about this; the McCauls still name all their heifers and Becky visits the new born calves twice a day for a feed, a scratch and knowing her, for a bit of a chat!

Three couples run the Fleurieu Milk Company. They have the best of both worlds; the Clarkes run a small Jersey herd and have the much talked about A2 milk; the Royans and Hutchinsons run Holstein Freesians, so together they have all the bases covered.

They have great pastures close to the dairy and all the milk is permeate free, so it will go through seasonal changes. As a chef I think it's refreshing to have a farmer that just works with his seasons and the changes they may bring to the produce and stands by that, it's real.

These guys say the best bit of their job is to take the dipper out of the vat and pop down to the house with the fresh milk for a cuppa, which is pretty much the stuff you get if you buy the un-homogenized range.

Tweedvale Milk sourced from pastures in Lobethal, in the Adelaide Hills has become a bit of a barista's favorite around town. Carlo Lorenzetti calls his milk, "A taste of the Hills."

It's also un-homogenized and comes from a collection of small herd properties in the area; a great solution to balancing volume yet still enabling individual farmers to manage the land and cows in a personalised hands on way.

A visit to the Spranz's Paris Creek B.-d. property in the hills a few years ago was another eye opener; this has got to be absolutely the most amazing pasture I have seen on a dairy farm. The cows, like the land are cared for under B.-d. principles, the herding and milking of the cows was one of the lowest stress examples of dairy farming I have seen. The result is milk that has huge and well deserved following.

It's about a balance of great tasting milk, happy cared for cows and good land care practices, so get out to your local farmers market and taste some milk and ask a few questions.

Once you've got some decent milk, maybe give this a bash ....make your own cheese!!!!

baked paneer cheese, coriander and green chilli, wilted silver beet

This is the simplest form of cheese whereby you acidulate hot milk and stand back with amazement as the curds form. A gentle touch is required to scoop the curds and once you master the correct technique for this, and the pressing of the curds, you will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment. The flavour is largely dependent on the milk you buy so I always opt for local "real" milk.

This dish is loosely based on Saag Paneer. I was taught to always puree the greens (which were spinach leaves) and fold in chunks of pressed paneer at the end. However, this deviate version came about because I love the texture and irony-flavour of wilted silverbeet over the cressy-flavor of pureed spinach.

serves 4

paneer - part 1
1.8 litre milk
160 ml double cream
70 ml white vinegar

paneer - part 2
100 ml yogurt, whipped lightly
pinch saffron threads, soaked in a smidge of warm water for 30 mins
good pinch salt flakes
1/8 teaspoon amchur powder (available from Indian grocers, aka mango powder)
1 lemon

Get 50 cm square of muslin cloth and line a 15 cm conical strainer, leaving edges of the cloth hanging over.

Bring milk up just below a simmer, over a low flame in a heavy based pot, fold in cream then continue heating and stirring with a spatula to prevent sticking. Just before the mixture simmers over (i.e. about 90°C, when it starts foaming up) stir to create a little whirlpool with a spatula. Turn off flame and pour in the vinegar in a steady stream.

Don't touch! Leave for 4 mins, then carefully scoop all the curds out with a flat fine strainer and place gently into the muslin cloth. Get the cloth edges and gather together to form a big ball (should be about the size of a softball). Loop string around the top and tie, squeeze excess liquid out very gently and then place the ball in wide shallow tray.

Put a plate on top and press with something weighing about 1 kg for 30 mins (e.g. the left over whey in a pot usually does the trick). The cheese will squeeze a little excess liquid through the cloth as it presses; this is normal, transfer to fridge for 40 mins to firm up.

Mix saffron and soaking liquid into yogurt

Remove cheese from fridge and unwrap. Lightly oil a baking tray, place cheese on tray and cover with yogurt mix, bake in hot oven until dark brown with a few black crispy bits. Hit it with a squeeze of lemon and the amchur (dried mango) powder.

saag (wilted silverbeet)
60 g ghee
1 big bunch silverbeet, leaves sliced across axis in 4 cm widths (the lower stems are not used in this dish)
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
2 brown onions, diced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 small tin diced tomato
1 bunch coriander, stems chopped and leaves picked
1 large green chilli, sliced

Sauté onions and garlic in the ghee over medium heat turn up the flame when softened and add fresh grated turmeric, cumin and coriander. Fry until aromatic (a minute or so, some of the cumin should pop a bit). Turn down to low heat and fold in diced tomato with juices from the tin and simmer for 10 mins or until tomato is soft. Turn heat up and fold in silverbeet and coat with spices and tomato, add a splash of water and place lid on pan. Cook until silverbeet is wilted and check seasoning.

Rip the cheese up and toss on top of spinach, serve with pappadams.

And if you're keen to read a bit more about cheese making - specifically relating to the use of raw milk in its production, then take a look at Think ST Solutions - Andrew Thomson's article "The Australian Cheesemakers' Dilemma: Raw Milk vs Pasteurised Milk."

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