There are few things more endearing than an eight-year-old boy who wins a pumpkin pie baking contest, takes his $75 in winnings, and buys a cow. That's what Tom Coutu did.
Today, Tom's in his early twenties. And over the past decade and a half, his herd of cows has only grown. These days, he has more like twenty-two running around. They're not just pets anymore; with his father, Bill, Tom has turned his love of bovines into a business. Bill does the marketing (and the interviews), and Tom sells raw, or un-pasteurized, milk. It's quite the operation.
Neither Tom or Bill knew much about raw milk when they started. Originally, they got into it because of cost, because even though they already owned pasteurizing equipment, it was going to run them $50,000 to get their milk from the cows into the bottles. As Bill puts it, "It was either re-mortgage the farm, or find another way." That other way was raw milk.
Apparently, there's a big market for raw milk around here.
Bill and Tom found out that there's a whole website devoted to getting raw milk legalized, that a lot of people believe it has more good enzymes and bacteria and vitamins than pasteurized milk, and that though it isn't legal to sell in stores, you can sell it straight from the farm. They also found out that there are passionate groups of raw milk believers all over the Cape, and that they would come from as far away as Provincetown to get it. People started putting together milk cooperatives, with a different member driving to do the pick-up each week, and Tom and Bill had a business underway.
I joined one last August, and now, this is where I get my milk each week:
Bill says he thinks there are lots of reasons for this demand. For one, he thinks people want to know where their milk is coming from: meet the farmer, check out the fields, say hello to the cows, that sort of thing. He also thinks they want to have some say in what the cows are fed, and what sort of bottles the milk comes in, and what day they pick it up on, and really feel like they're part of the decision making. And of course, he thinks they like the taste. "Our milk is like a milkshake," he grins.
Of course, he knows there are also reasons farms pasteurize their milk. Raw milk can be scary if it isn't tested routinely for bacteria—whereas pasteurized milk is cooked, raw milk is left as is. That means if the cows udders aren't clean or the milk holding tank has a crack, all sorts of bad microbes could get in. Bill and Tom had a crack in one of their holding tanks last summer, and with the state's testing system, it took three weeks to get the farm back up and running. Afterwards, they bought their own testing equipment, so that these days, they can find the source of a bacteria problem within 24 hours.
Whether or not people are comfortable with raw milk depends on a lot of things. I happen to like it, partly because I think there's something to be said for drinking milk in its natural state, and partly because I like the taste. I especially like the taste in ice cream and milkshakes, because it's much, much creamier than what you get in the store. Bill and Tom's milk has 6 or 7 percent butterfat, as opposed to the 3 percent in conventional grocery whole milk. That gets skimmed a bit, so that dairies can sell things like butter and cream.
One of my favorite things to make with Tom and Bill's milk is caramel ice cream. I found the recipe in a French cookbook, a collection put together by Williams Sonoma, and I made it the other day when the weather was just a little bit warm. We dug a bag of salty pretzels out of the cupboard for dipping, and sat at the dinner table with the doors open, dipping the twists in the sweet, melting cream. If the sun decides to peek out again any time soon, I highly recommend you make a date to do the same.
CARAMEL ICE CREAM
adapted from The Food of France by Chris Jones, Maria Villegas, and Sarah Randell
Part of what I like about this recipe is that it doesn't make too much. It says it serves four, and it does, but everyone only gets one modest scoop. It's very un-American, I know, but I think that's the way ice cream-eating should be. If you use raw milk, which is not homogenized, you can skim the cream the recipes calls for from the top.
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cream
3 egg yolks
1 and 1/3 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat all but 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. As the crystals begin to melt, swirl the liquid so that it browns evenly. Once it turns a deep caramel color, remove from the heat and carefully pour in the cream. It will sputter and look all wrong, but put it back over low heat and keep stirring and the cream and caramel will come together.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Set aside.
In a separate pot, heat up the milk. When it begins to steam, just before it boils, pour it over the caramel, stirring well. Place the caramel and milk over low heat, and bring these nearly to a boil. (This shouldn't take long, as both ingredients are already hot.) Now whisk in the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (It won't get quite as thick as traditional custard, but that's okay.)
Pour the custard into a bowl, covering the top with plastic wrap so that it doens't form a skin, and refrigerate until cool. Then churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions.
To see more pictures of Tom & Bill Coutu's cows, you can visit their website. To learn more about raw milk, check out the following articles and websites:
A Campaign for Real Milk
Raw Milk Facts
Got Raw Milk? (from the Boston Globe)
Got Raw Milk? Be Very Quiet. (from Time Magazine)
P.S. My computer and I are taking a break from each other for a bit. We'll reunite next Thursday for the Local Food Report post. Enjoy the week, and I'll see you then!