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Local Ice Cream and the Dairy CSA

by Sam Pearson posted on Oct 23, 2007 10:27 PM last modified Mar 20, 2012 10:08 AM

We need to drum up enough interest in the raw dairy CSA to allow me to get local ice cream.

It's time to try out the blog option and what better place to start than with ice cream?  You see, I'm rather partial to the stuff, but my latest bit of local food mania has taken the form of swearing off non-local ice cream.  This is really cutting into my ice cream consumption, which is typically substantial.  So now I'm looking for help to reinstate tubs of the yummy cold stuff in my freezer.  Specifically, we need to get enough people signed on to restart the Dairy CSA.  The CSA is another version of "community supported agriculture," though different from the garden-variety summertime produce type.  In this case, it's a year-round contract one arranges with a local producer to provide dairy goods on a weekly basis.  We have in the past had a slice of a Dairy CSA from Spring Bank Acres north of Millheim in Rebersberg.  Raymond Fischer is a Mennonite farmer who runs a dairy there.  He was kind enough to attend our Know Your Farmer Know Your Food event last month, which gave me an opportunity to grill him about all sorts of stuff.  To wit:

Will raw milk kill me?

Mine won't, but don't ask me about anyone else's operation.  The pasteurization process was a boon when it was introduced many years ago, but we have the technology that allows us to produce clean and healthy milk without resorting to sterilizing it.  We sterilize our production facilities, not our product.  In fact, it's more to the point to ask whether pasteurized milk might kill you.  In CA, for example, where it's been legal to buy and sell raw milk in stores for several decades, there have been no incidents of illness arising from tainted raw milk, but in the same period there have been repeated serious and even fatal outbreaks of illness stemming from consumption of pasteurized milk.

Illegal milk, huh?

It is currently legal to buy raw dairy products in 38 states.  It is illegal in the rest.  In the ones that do allow it, there is a wide range of degree of availability.  As mentioned, in CA, you can buy it in the grocery store.  In PA, by contrast, raw milk can only be sold in small quantities from the farmer or through small-scale stores and other raw dairy products are not available direct-to-consumer for the most part.  However, it is legal to establish an ongoing business relationship with a dairy and contract for the making of the product, whether cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir, etc.

Why would I want to drink raw milk?

It's a lot better for you in the same way that breastmilk is best for babies.  For those unfamiliar with the miraculous properties of breastmilk, it contains all sorts of enzymes, healthy bacteria and fragile fatty acids.  It is less prone to spoilage than processed milk.  However, those who breastfeed are cautioned not to heat it above body temperature.  Why?  Because doing so destroys many of the most valuable components of the milk.  The same is true for cow's milk.  Raw it still has all sorts of healthy components which get destroyed by the heating for pasteurization.

What about the cream on top, it's not homogenized either?

Homogenization is also a likely health detriment in standard milk.  The globules of fat are broken down to a tiny size and placed in suspension in the rest of the fluid.  Those tiny globules are apparently far more likely to clog your circulatory system.

It's still got cholesterol, right?

Glad you asked.  It does, but since our cows are grass-fed, rather than grain-fed, it has a higher proportion of good cholesterol to bad than standard grain-fed milk.  In fact, it also has ultra-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  We are so convinced of the health-giving properties of our milk that we drink it whole and we encourage you to drink it too.  Though, if you insist, we can also supply you with skim milk, if we must.

So how much fat is in the milk?

However much comes out of the cows.  The milk you buy at the grocery store is a highly processed and reconstituted product.  In addition to the superheating and the serious agitation, the contents are first separated and then reassembled in very precise proportions, exactly matching the minimum legal requirement for the grade specificed, e.g. whole milk, or 4% milkfat milk actually has about 3.5% fat; lowfat, or 2% milkfat milk actually has about 1.8% fat; and skim does have a small amount.  Our cows are not so regulated.  At different times in their milk-producing cycle, they produce milk of different fat contents (also familiar to those who are acquainted with breastfeeding) and at different times of year it can vary as well, given changes in their diet (fresh grass in summer versus stored fodder in winter).  As a result, the fat content in the milk varies from about 4.5% to 5.8%, substantially higher than storebought.  Our cream products also vary a bit, but it's a natural variation, not a market-driven one.

So if your milk isn't subject to these regulations, is it regulated at all?

Yes, the PA Department of Agriculture certifies and inspects raw dairy facilities and products.  We welcome the regulation and are glad to have our cleanliness and quality vouched for.  Again, as with the origins of pasteurization, the regulation of milk products was a highly desirable innovation.  At one time, before the milkfat content was regulated, it was a game to extract the high value cream for other uses but still get the remaining milk to taste as creamy as possible.  There are documented cases of all sorts of additives, including powdered dandelion and sheep brains being used to doctor the consistency of the skim milk.  Clearly, if that sort of thing was going on (as with the mystery ingredients we're hearing about in products from China, or in animal feed), some kind of regulation was in order.

How about hormones?

Only the ones that the cow's produce themselves.  We don't administer rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) to quadruple the milk production and make the cow's sick, short-lived, and miserable.  We go with their natural production rate and patterns.  Of course it's up to you whether you feel that that's a benefit for you or not, since the industrial milk lobby has prohibited advertising our rBGH-free status since it implies that their hormone-laden product is inferior...

Are all your products raw?

No, we also sell pasteurized yogurt and ice cream.  By making pasteurized versions of these products, we ensure that we can sell them at farmers' markets in single-servings.

What's the shelf-life of raw milk?

It is more fragile than the industrial version, but kept properly, it can last several weeks.  It is best to store it in a narrow-mouthed glass jar (a milk bottle!), but we don't supply it in such a container.  The equipment is just too expensive for us to invest in right now.  The advantage of the glass is eliminating air infiltration, and the narrow mouth allows the cream to rise and form a cap at the top.

What else do you make, besides whole and skim milk?

Yogurt, with and without thickening or sweetener, cottage cheese, butter, sour cream, cream, buttermilk, many different cheeses, and ICE CREAM (my emphasis).

How can I get some?


Sign up for a subscription to our Dairy CSA.  You select a certain number of "units" to receive each week and pay in advance, either by 13-week, 26-week, or full-year installments.  By Monday night, you send in your order for the week to Nell Hanssen by email.  So, for example, if you sign up for 2 large units and 2 small units, you might order a gallon of milk, a pint of butter, a half-gallon of skim milk and a 8-oz block of cheddar one week, and a half-gallon of maple yogurt, a half-gallon of ice cream, a cup of sour cream and a cup of cottage cheese the next.  Nell would then come pick up all the orders for the Lewisburg area on Thursday morning and deliver them to a central drop-off location with fridge for you to pick up at your convenience that afternoon or evening.


Anything else I need to know?

We make the ice cream in 2 gallon batches.  So I need to have orders for that much to make it -- whether for one household or split among several.  Obviously it keeps in the freezer, but if you use your entire subscription for ice cream one week, you might be out of milk before the next delivery...


Thank you, Raymond, for the milk edification.  I need to follow up with some more information as well.  What you really need to know is that this stuff tastes fantastic.  If you are into food, you ought to do yourself a favor and eat the real thing.  If you can't stomach the raw concept, just go with the yogurts and ice creams, or the cream or sour cream for cooking and baking.


To complicate things further, I also have to mention that there is another Dairy CSA possibility, though not one that has operated in our area previously.  This one would be supplied by the Stone Meadow Farm cheese fellow and the dairy he works with.  They are out in Aronsburg, west of Woodward.  They are interested in possibly starting a CSA service in our area, but if we can't maintain enough interest to keep Raymond's stuff coming our way, I'm not sure we can muster the people for a second group.  On the other hand, their cheese, particularly the Camembert, is amazing.


But they don't make ice cream -- so you know where my vote lies.  Actually, yes, I am perfectly capable of making my own ice cream.  I am now down to 3 churns.  But I have a hard time keeping myself in it on a regular basis, which is really what one ought to do while we still have the energy to throw around (obligatory peak oil reference).


But, seriously, what I'd really like to see would be both of them fully subscribed.  They don't need a huge amount of business, but it does need to be worth their while to transport the dairy goods here.  The fact that we haven't maintained adequate numbers is not a sign of attrition or loss of interest, but rather that key early-adopters have moved out of the area and that we haven't ever gotten above a sort of borderline number of subscriptions.


Search in your heart (yearning for dairy bearing omega-3s) and see whether you want to give it a try.


For the weak of heart, do note that Swiss Valley Dairies raw whole milk is available at Ard's Market, in glass bottles, even.  It is delivered on Thursday mornings, if you want to give it a try.  And even Weis is now offering local, grass-fed, though pasteurized organic milk in their small organic dairy section.  The milk comes from Natural By Nature, which is a PA company, I forget where out of.  It's available in several grades including skim.


But come on, live a little.  Be a dairy queen or king.  After all you live in the heart of dairy country.  My aunt, who lives outside of New Orleans gets PA raw dairy (and eggs!) shipped to her by FedEx.  Needless to say, this is illegal (it's not certified for interstate commerce), bad for the environment (raw dairy is truly meant for local consumption, not air transport), and silly (about two thirds of the eggs typically make it...).  But if she is so desperate for this stuff that she goes to these extents, shouldn't you be taking advantage of it since it's legal, quite healthy for the local economy and agriculture, and not at all silly?

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