Tuesday, October 26, 2010

gentle cream

Every morning there they are – the players of my a.m. – the coffeepot, the coffee, and Thomas’s Half-and-Half.

Yes, I love my coffee. My coffeepot? Not so much! A great, black, overpriced monster, so officious you’d think it would do more than make coffee; but if that IS all it can do you’d think it could do it without being so intrusive. Always flashing its little red eye at me!  “Girl! Clean me!” Or, “Girl! Change my filter!” Insisting on beeping every morning – just what everyone needs in the morning, five shrill electronic beeps –  to tell me the coffee’s ready.

Which is insane, of course – am I not standing here staring at you as you begin to gurgle, making sure you haven’t decided to spurt great puddles of black greck all over everything? Did you think I would forget my first coffee injection of the morning? Are you not gurgling into a vacuum bottle that will keep it hot? And please, do let me remind you that it is MY coffee, so get busy!

As for the coffee itself, my favorite lately is Pierce Brothers’ Holy Smokes – organic, Free Trade – from the Co-op. I grind it all at once when I buy it because I don’t like the noise of the grinder first thing in the morning (hint hint, Mr. Coffeemaker!). And I mean! Really! How freshly-ground does this old palate need it to be?

My VPR mug sits on the counter next to the monster. I pour my Thomas’s half-and-half into it before the coffee. It’s my cream of choice except when I have whole, unpasteurized raw milk from one of my neighboring farms.

Why Thomas’s? Well, 1) it’s bright and cheery and good tasting; 2) it’s local – Thomas Dairy has been around since Orin Thomas started delivering his own cows’ milk back in 1921, and now the milk comes from six local farms – as one of their wryly clever ads says, “Trucked in all the way from up the street” – and it’s owned by the grandchildren, Richard, John, Perry, and Christa (John’s daughter, Abbey, is now showing an interest); and 3) it is  gently pasteurized.

Which is to say, it is NOT ultrapasteurized – that is, cooked until you could keep a pail of it in your pantry for months and not a creature would take the slightest interest, unless it accidentally tripped on a box of Jell-o and fell in and drowned. Almost all the organic milk you can buy is ultrapasteurized. And what that means, of course, is that our organic dairy farmers produce a wonderful product that is then picked up and shipped out of state to be processed, subjected to ultrapasteurization and homogenization, then shipped back here deader’n a doornail.

I’m standing here watching the dastardly coffee-pot when it occurs to me –  I’ll bet Thomas’s is about the only milk we can get that ISN’T ultrapasteurized. And yup, next time I look in  the Co-op’s dairy case I find that’s absolutely true.

People who haven’t been paying attention buy this organic, ultrapasteurized milk and exhort their kids to drink it – Because it’s GOOD for you! But it’s probably NOT good for little Noah and Emma, first of all because it’s cooked, and second because if Mom and Dad have been paying attention to the official line for the last half century they have certainly come down with the prevailing idea that animal fats are not good for them and so they are feeding little Carter and Madison skim milk or 1% ultrapasteurized water that has probably had dried (skim) milk solids added back into it so that it doesn’t have the mouth feel of water. Dried milk is often made by spraying milk onto a hot screen and then peeling the evaporated solids off the screen.
Eew. It’s not a good thing. And drinking milk without its natural fat just further upsets the balance between its good Omega-3’s and everything else’s Omega-6’s.

And maybe, since little Liam and Charlotte would rather drink soda, Mom and Dad have brought them sweetly flavored chocolate or strawberry milk. We are getting very far from whole, natural, or healthy here, or even the meaning of... Milk!

Anne Mendelson in her book, Milk: The surprising story of milk through the ages,
writes, “As shown by USDA and census statistics, consumption of both whole milk and butter was steadily declining during the 1950s and ‘60s while the number of fatal heart attacks rose – along with decreasing use of animal fats overall and increasing use of vegetable oils. Yet to this day the American Heart Association – which readily accepts money from manufacturers in return for putting AHA approval stickers on products like Cocoa Puffs breakfast cereal and Smart Balance De Luxe Microwave Popcorn – still inveighs against milk with the milkfat that is simply part of the nature of milk.”

Those people who feel that pasteurization is needed in order to kill off any dastardly microbes should demand with their milk dollars milk that has been heated to the agreed upon high heat (of 160° - 170°) for a short time (20 seconds)  rather than the higher heat of  280° for a shorter time (at least 2 seconds), which is what produces ultra-pasteurized milk.

Still gazing at my black plastic coffeemaker, I realize that I have never seen the inside of a dairy processing plant nor do I know the exact process Thomases uses, so I drive up to Thomas Dairy just north of Rutland and talk to John and Richard Thomas, who are cousins, and it works this way: Milk from each of the 6 dairy farms they buy from is picked up every other day – their one milk tanker is on the road every day of the year –  then fed into one of several bulk tanks built into the walls of the rather small processing plant. A portion of that milk is kept whole and the rest goes through the process of separating the milk from the cream. At that point whole milk is added back to a portion of the separated skim milk to make the 1% and 2% milk. Cream is added to the whole milk to make the half-and-half, which is 11-12% butterfat (trivia fact: half-and-half originally meant half skim and half lite cream which is 20% butterfat. Just to give you more of an idea, heavy cream is 43% butterfat and butter contains about  80% butterfat).

The next step is to pasteurize every mixture, and then all but the heavy cream is homogenized.
Homogenization consists of  passing the liquid under high pressure through a tiny orifice, making the fat globules smaller, increasing their number and surface area, which keeps them suspended throughout the more watery substance and prevents the cream from rising to the surface.

It is this last process that Anne Mendelson finds most objectionable. “...virtually all the pasteurized milk that reaches us has been centrifugally separated, recombined to standardized milkfat percentages and homogenized. These steps do more to denature milk than anything else that happens to it in manufacturing. The creamier ‘mouthfeel” and fresher flavor of whole raw milk at a well-run... dairy farm ... reflect not just actual freshness but the fact that the basic milk structure is intact. You can get nearly all the same effect from unhomogenized pasteurized milk – at least, if it comes to you very fresh and was pasteurized by the right method.” There is an added benefit to unhomogenized milk and cream – there is some evidence that the smaller globules of fat are able to get caught on the walls of the arteries and can clog them.

When I asked John and Richard, separately, whether they would consider offering unhomogenized whole milk (called cream-line milk) if they found there was a demand for it, both looked thoughtful, perhaps even intrigued, and agreed that it was a possibility.  Whole milk which is never separated, only gently pasteurized, and bypasses homogenization would simplify their process immensely, and be much less expensive to produce.

In the meantime, there’s another solution if you want your coffee cream unhomogenized. Since Thomas’s doesn’t homogenize their heavy cream, you could mix a small container of it with a quart of skim milk. That is, if you don’t mind shaking your coffee cream!

Those of you in the central/eastern part of the state can buy Strafford organic cream-line milk. It is unhomogenized and simply pasteurized. Monument Farms Dairy (that link under construction), a little north of here, also does no ultra-pasteurization, but their milk is homogenized. None of them allow their milk to contain any added hormones or antibiotics.

I asked John Thomas why it was that my half-and-half and cream lasted so incredibly long – I can leave a freshly opened carton in the fridge while I leave for a long weekend, and when I come back it’s still fresh.  He said he didn’t know, but that a lot of chefs won’t use anything but Thomas’s heavy cream because it stays fresh and sweet and always whips up nicely.  I told him that when I make crème fraiche with any other cream (and when and why would I do that?) it sometimes won’t sour and thicken at all. He’s not a cook, but he filed away that fact. I think it’s because Thomas’s is so fresh. And local! Its shelf life starts moments before you reach into the cooler to buy it.

Ah, finally – the monster emits its five beeps and I pour my first cup of coffee. I wish someone made coffeemakers locally.

Crème Fraiche
Gently whisk a tablespoon or two of good (Cabot’s) sour cream into a pint of  Thomas’s heavy cream in a bowl, loosely cover and leave in a warm place until piquantly soured and quite thick – this usually takes about 3 hours. Serve a dollop of this over pies, pot roast, or breakfast toast. For a special dessert, serve it over good preserves or jams or jellies served in very small bowls, with tiny spoons. How precious!

Originally Published as a Twice Bitten Column in the Rutland Herald 10/25/10


Anonymous said...

What a delightful post. I had to say I had a quick slap of recognition in your disdain of your coffeemaker though, Sharon: ours is local (eeks, maybe not made locally but designed so at that place in Benton Harbor) and we'd gone through 4 (4!) coffee makers before we stumbled upon this one. (Our water is really hard and it blows them out, vinegar baths or no.) That doesn't mean we like it any better for its longevity.

Nope, for the last 6 months or so I have retrieved my old Chemex from the bottom of the cabinet and we're now huge fans, again, of this drip method. It allows my husband to geek out completely (blooming the grounds, nurturing the pour) and me, well, it's a superlative cup of joe. It ain't, however, in a thermal carafe or air tight; you gotta drink it quick if you want it warm.

I do wish we had as many choices as you do though in dairy purchases! We can't even get heavy cream locally.

Anonymous said...

I really loved this article. With my limited time that often results in midnight runs to the grocery store on my way home because the raw milk has run out... I'm so glad for a local alternative for dairy!

Anonymous said...

uh oh... I see my comment came under the identity "India". It was me. Tara