Monday, November 8, 2010

Got Milk?

“Aaron Buuuuhhhh!!!”        

Anyone living through the 1990’s probably remembers the “Got Milk?” campaign.  Sponsored first by the California Milk Processing Board (who else would combine agribusiness and Hollywood?), the print ads featured good-looking celebrities (Marilyn Manson was conspicuously absent) with milk moustaches.  I suppose the campaign was due to some consultant’s report about falling milk consumption in the US.  There probably was some crazy power-point presentation with lots of pie charts and statistics that pointed to all the possible market failures in the milk industry.  Mr. McKenzie or Ms. BCG probably spent hours contemplating the strategic realignment of dairy concerns across the US.  And even with their kaleidoscope of graphs, I am sure that none of their “targeted analyses” cared to explain the real reason as to why no one in the US drinks milk anymore: it’s tasteless.
            The US is not particularly low on the milk drinking scale – around 83.9 liters per capita.  But compared to the Nordic countries, the US is pretty pathetic.  The Swedes drink about 145 liters per capita. Danes drink 139 liters per capita.  Finland leaves them all in the dust with a whopping 183.9 liters per capita.  I suppose another consultant could make a study as to why there is such a wide global gap, but I think I already know the answer.  Milk in Scandinavia/Nordic countries is crazy good.  My Danish husband kept on talking about Danish milk as if it was the Holy Grail.  I didn’t get it.  It’s milk.  That was until I went to Denmark and had a glass of milk.  It was the best milk I ever had.  Then I knew milk was a revelation – not merely a white-colored beverage in a plastic jug.
            Looking at the sales statistics from Dairy Foods (a business to business subscription report, owned by BNP Media, a business media conglomerate), the top milk companies, are surprise, surprise, mainly corporations.  Food behemoths, such as Dean Foods, Kroger, HP Hood and Prarie Farms pretty much monopolize the milk processing and distribution market.  Even organic milk supplies are dominated by corporations, such as Horizon and Dean Foods (Dean controls 55% of the organic milk production, processing and distribution in the US).  All those store brands at your local supermarket?  Also corporately owned – and the fun fact is that they own every step of the production process, from the cows to processing to packaging to distribution.  This could make a stellar business case study in vertical integration and market dominance.
            The issue I have with such milk oligarchs is not so much that they are corporations, but with their market dominance. They squelch any competition for quality in the milk market.  When I tried to figure out how that Danish milk could taste so damn good, the answer came in the form of happy cows.  Eighty-five organic, free-range, grass-fed Holstein cows on a single-family farm in Northern Jutland.  You can even tell what season it was by taste – summer milk had a creamier complexion and mouth-feel compared to winter milk.  Milk in the US tastes the same every day, every season, every year – and I bet most of those dairy cows have no idea what seasons are anyway.
            But the most startling thing about this milk, beyond its taste, was the fact I bought this milk at the grocery store.  Yes, it was a bit more expensive than the other brands, but even the “average” milk (non-organic, homogenized corporate milk), tasted fantastic.  Could I ever get anything like this in the States?  Only through some dark-shadowy dealings with my raw milk pusher.[1]
            When I finally had the courage to ask my milk-pusher about the source of his illicit goods, he confirmed what I had suspected: the cows were free-range, organic cows – not chosen for their milk productivity, but for the quality of the milk they produced.  While he could not tell me the exact who, what, when, and where of my milk’s origins, he did answer the why:  the dairy-persons were tired of selling sub-standard milk to the MAN.  They wanted everyone to taste the milk of their everyday lives – not the chalk-water that their milk processor demanded.
            What’s the average Joe going to do?  The best thing, if you can afford it, is to look for milk that is locally sourced and processed by cooperatives.  Check and see how they treat their cows.  While organic would be best in avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and hormones of conventional cows, conventional cows, if given the necessary roaming space, fresh water and a varied diet, shouldn’t need those drugs anyway.  It is one evil cycle – poor husbandry leads to diseased cows, which leads to more drugs and pus  - into your milk.  And even if you are not some PETA martyr, do it for your mouth.  Your mouth (and your conscience) will thank you.

Leche Frita (Fried Milk)
            This is a Spanish dessert that seems to do the impossible – fry milk.  To get the best consistency and flavor, use the best whole milk you can find (organic or not).  Also, the first part, the custard, needs about 3 hours to chill before it becomes fried.  I usually make the custard the night before, and fry it just before I serve dessert.  Amuse your guests and have them guess what they’re eating.  They will never guess it’s milk.

21/2 c. whole milk
1 cinnamon stick (or canela, the Mexican cinnamon if you can find it)
zest from 1 orange (if waxed, wash in hot water and dry before zesting)
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1/3 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. extra-fine sugar (if you don’t have it, just use regular sugar and pulse in a food processor)
extra flour for dusting
vegetable oil for frying
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1.     Grease an 8 by 11 jelly roll pan.  Line the pan with baking paper or wax paper, with a 2 in. extension on the long sides.
2.     Combine milk, cinnamon stick, and orange zest in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil and take off heat.
3.     Cover the milk with plastic wrap (to avoid developing a skin) and let it rest for 10 minutes.  Discard cinnamon stick.
4.     In the meanwhile, in a medium bowl. Beat the 2 whole eggs, egg yolk, 1/3 c. of flour, cornstarch, vanilla and sugar until smooth. 
5.     Whisk egg mixture slowly into the warm milk and stir over medium low heat until the custard boils and thickens.  Constantly stir the simmering custard until the custard starts to leave the sides of the pan, about 2 minutes.
6.     Spread custard evenly into the prepared pan.  When cool enough to handle, please pan into the refrigerator for about 3 hours, or until firm (overnight is fine).
7.     Using the excess wax/baking paper as handles, carefully lift the custard out of the pan.  Cut the custard into squares – about 20 to a pan.
8.     Take each squares and dust lightly with flour.
9.     In the meanwhile, heat oil to 350°F in a wok, cast iron skillet or heavy pan. (If you don’t have a thermometer, place a popcorn kernel into the oil.  When it pops, the oil is at the right temperature for deep frying.)
10.  Deep fry squares in hot oil until golden brown.  Do not crowd the pan.  You will have to fry in batches.
11.  Drain fried squares on paper towels.  Combine powdered sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and coat fried squares with the mixture. Serve immediately.

[1] While raw milk is amazing, it is not pasteurized – thus, very little protection against food-borne pathogens.  I am willing to take that risk, however, I, in no way, shape or form, recommend you drink raw milk, unless you are willing to take such a risk.  Also, kids and the elderly shouldn’t be drinking raw milk either – food-borne pathogens adversely affect those with weaker immune systems.

1 comment:

  1. Here in California we have raw milk, specifically Organic Pastures & Claravale in Los Angeles, and sometimes from Straus (all in glass bottles)
    I don't drink the stuff, as a good Frenchie, but I use it for cooking.
    Grew up on raw milk, raw crème fraîche and butter. If you ever come to Normandie, you need to try raw crème fraîche, and fromage blanc.