Saturday, August 9, 2008

small but beautiful

I started a new market last Sunday. It's the only Sunday market in this area that I know of, and why not? Why is it that Sunday is earmarked as a do-nothing day? Why can't Monday be the new Sunday? We could all be French and just cease to work altogether and call eating a really old brie our job. Anyway, I heard about it through some folks at one of the other markets I work, I checked it out, and I saw that it was good. Really good.

Now, this market is not good in terms of sales. It's ok. Probably the least profitable market we do. But then, this market is amazing for several reasons. It is in the very small, utterly charming town of Marshall, NC. Wonderful place with just the cutest little downtown you've ever seen. This market is on a grass-covered area. I don't know whose bright idea it was to have all the farmers' markets in parking lots in the heat of summer. Not too bright. And then, there are all the little hippie children running around naked, and that's kind of cute. There's bread, veggies, and even mushrooms at this market. Pretty well represented by the food groups. And so I wondered why is was that we weren't doing this market. Obviously, because we're too busy to breathe, but as I am a slave for punishment and like to overcommit I decided it was worth doing. And Marshall is more "local" than Asheville. Why not?

My one wish is that I could sell raw milk. North Carolina's government is obviously not ready for the health benefits of raw milk, because it is illegal under all circumstances. You can't even sell raw milk as pet milk. I would be quite happy to fly beneath the radar on this one and sell as much raw milk as people want, but I can't do that because a.) we don't have enough milk to sell just milk--we need it all for cheesemaking--and b.) Chris isn't willing to take a chance on the raw milk thing. I totally understand and would never ask or expect her to agree to it. She's licensed, reputable, and pretty well established. The last thing the family needs is to be fined or possibly shut down over raw milk. Not worth it. I, however, provided that I had my own goats, would absolutely love to fill that niche. Why shouldn't people have access to good, fresh, healthy, raw goats milk?

The thing about raw milk that people don't understand is that pastuerization was standardized as dairies became too large to ensure sanitary conditions. Raw milk from the family cow wasn't an issue. Raw milk from a huge dairy, however, was. Raw milk is actually a very predictable thing. In fact, even when raw milk spoils it's more a matter of certain ("good") bacteria multiplying and giving an off-flavor. You can make homemade sour cream by letting a jar of raw milk sit out at room temperature for a few days. The result is fresh sour cream sitting in a thick layer on top of the milk. When milk is pasteurized, both "good" and "bad" bacteria are killed off, and so the milk is not only devoid of probiotics, but it is also a perfect breeding ground for any invading bacteria to come in and take over. In raw milk, the "good" existing bacteria ward off the "bad" bacteria. At least that's the case most of the time.

I won't deny that raw milk can be a scary idea when you've had nothing but the pasteurized stuff all your life, or, heaven forbid, soy milk or some other absurd thing. When I first started drinking raw milk I was a little hesitant, and I was super vigilant about smelling it to make sure it hadn't gone bad. But after a year of drinking raw milk I can assure you that I've had no problems, and my usually squirrely digestive system has neatly straightened itself out. No miracle cures here. Just plain old natural raw milk. I can understand avoiding raw milk if you are sick, pregnant, or your immune system is compromised. But even then, if you have your own animals I see no reason why you should avoid it.

The interesting thing about this issue is that people are becoming more and more educated about it. I have at least one person at every market ask me if we sell raw milk, and people are often interested in the raw milk cheeses we make simply because they are raw. Also, raw food diets are becoming more and more popular, and even those of us who prefer our food cooked or at least heated know that raw foods can improve any diet drastically. If things continue on this path we may have a full-fledged food revolution with goat and cow shares for everyone. There's plenty of raw milk to go around.

I, as a cheesemaker, am jealous of European cheesemakers who can forgo pasteurization altogether. I think most serious cheese-eaters know that a pasteurized camembert is nothing at all like its richer, yummier unpasteurized sister. We work with what we have, and we make a good cheese, but how I yearn for unpasteurized goodness. If we could age our bloomy (mold-ripened) cheeses to 60 days we could sell them legally. But getting a camembert to 60 days without having it turn runny and ammoniated is something I'm not sure we can do. A cheese that ripens at 3-4 weeks won't be too pretty come day 60.

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