I became acquainted with the concept of food as a political issue 20 years ago when I purchased a magazine called Slow Food. Its philosophy: We envision a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet. At the time it was a revolutionary and challenging idea, but for more than two decades now I have intellectualized and politicized most everything I put in my mouth. I consider where it came from, how it got to me, how it was grown and by whom, how it lived and died, and what waste it will produce. I have experienced guilt, confusion, self-righteousness, and occasionally the sublime, all in regard to food.
The fact that this is old concern does not comfort me—food entered the political arena when it became a commodity. The first written language was invented in Sumer (present day Iraq) third millennium B.C.E. to help keep track of accounts, including the grain stores in the warehouses, ancient Rome’s demagogues whipped the proletariat into riotous frenzies with the threat of inflated wheat prices, and more recently, the WTO undermines good environmental and health policies to profit multinational companies. These days, unless I raised it myself, the revolutionary idea just makes me sad, because I know we absolutely have the ability feed the world nourishing food. But we continue to sacrifice the well being of our fellow species, man and the planet, and we have yet to wrest this basic necessity from the grip of dangerous profit mongers.
It is encouraging that in the US there is a bounty of organic foods available. I have only seen an organic product for sale in Mexico once, though much is produced here for export. Unfortunately, because of the higher production costs for organics, they are more expensive than less healthful choices. This can make buying quality food cost prohibitive for many. I certainly never saw any one whip out their food stamps in Whole Foods when I was living in Chicago, and I know that I found it irresistible to not buy the buy one get one free, factory farmed rib eyes or jalapeño jack at Jewel on occasion.
It is also heartening that buying locally is trendy and more widely available. In many areas, with a bit of research you can find locally produced meat, and can purchase fresh milk direct from the farm. But when you find your milk it will likely cost you 6 dollars or more a gallon. This is my small offering to combat organic foods unfortunately inherent elitism, a little trick to make your milk money go farther.
To begin, you will need one gallon of full cream, raw, organic milk. It should yield about one and a half to two cups of cream.
Refrigerate your milk overnight in a wide mouth container. The next day skim off the cream with a large shallow spoon. The cream will be darker in color and thicker; often the cream will be quite clotted, that’s a good sign. Stop skimming when it looks like there is more milk than cream swirling around. Here you have a choice, do you want sour cream or butter?
If you want butter put the cream in your food processor and let it warm up a bit, not to room temp, though it will still work if you forget it, but not work cold, right out of the refrigerator. When it’s tepid, blend until the butter separates from the whey. Yep, it’s that simple, it usually takes 3-4 minutes. Pour off the whey (buttermilk), gather the butter, and press it with a rubber spatula to work out the whey. You can do this under cold water if you like. This butter should be kept refrigerated because the whey that will l be left in it spoils easily. I don’t take great pains to get my butter really clean because I know it will be eaten within a week. If you won’t be using it right away it freezes well, or you can make ghee and then it keeps much longer. The buttermilk is delicious, it can be added to smoothies, or is a great pet treat.
If you prefer to make sour cream, whisk in 2 T. of prepared sour cream into your skimmed cream, cover and let it sit in a warm place (for example near a pilot light) until it is thickened and sour. Refrigerate and add salt if you like, salt will help preserve it. In my kitchen where it is always over 80 degrees, it takes one day to sour sitting on my kitchen table. Don’t forget to keep 2 tablespoons to make your next batch of sour cream. An added bonus, this sour cream will not separate if you cook with it.
Next, return to your container of refrigerated milk and skim the remaining cream swirling in your milk until you can’t see any swirls. This is light cream and can be used for coffee, cooking or anything you’d use half and half for. Milk can vary according to season and animal and doesn’t always yield this little extra.
Now pour one quart of the remaining milk into a heavy bottomed pan. Heat the milk on medium heat until you see little bubbles start to form on the edge, count to sixty, but don’t let it boil then turn off the heat. Place a thermometer in the milk and set your timer for twenty minutes; continue to use your timer to check back until you milk is 115 degrees, then whisk in 2 T. of plain yogurt. You can pour it into a ceramic or Pyrex container at this point if you wish, but I just leave mine in the pan. Cover and place in a warm place. I put mine out in the sun, because ideally it will stay around 115 degrees, again, near a pilot light is a good option. Place a cloth over the pan to protect it from drafts. Let it sit for 4- 8 hours, the longer you wait the more acidic your yogurt will be. You will need to refrigerate for the yogurt to fully gel. I got this recipe from my Fannie Farmer cookbook edited by Marion Cunningham, a book I love so much it has no cover and is in 4 pieces.
You will have to make your own decision about cooking your milk in relation to your source. There is much information available about the health benefits and risks of consuming raw milk. We cook our milk because the cows are milked in the field in less than sanitary conditions, but our butter is raw, as is our coffee cream. It’s a risk we are willing to take.
10 minutes, butter
About 15 minute’s active time for yogurt
2 minutes active time for sour cream
2 1/2 quarts of milk $3.75 each
1 pint sour cream $6.50 or
Approx. 1/4 pound of butter $1.50
1 quart of yogurt $4.75
Prices based on organic products in Portland OR.
$10.00 to $15.00 worth of product for $6.00! Now I’d say that’s VSVEVG.