In Living Culture
…So this is all going to seem quite like bragging.
Every morning I do something 80 percent of you can’t. I eat yogurt. A steady rotation of mason jars filled with goat, sheep, and cows milk line my refrigerator shelves, sweetly perfumed with pasture, waiting to be poured into ceramic mugs and laced with summer berries, dark honey, or still-warm granola. I eat raw milk yogurt for breakfast, yogurt that I purchase at one of several local shops and farmers markets.
And Maine is one of only ten US states in which eating or drinking the dairy of your choice is legal.*
Yogurt is a food that is easily taken for granted: churned seamlessly out from an easy majority of world cuisines, yogurt is deemed nutritious for the very living cultures that help to deny it legality. You know those "live cultures" sometimes listed at the bottom of your yogurt cup's ingredient list? Without going into the deep politics of raw milk consumption and distribution in the USA, suffice it to say that living bacteria can be a good and a bad thing. Ah, the ever-handy analogy: there are the parents that race to secure their children’s health with flu shots, assuming that keeping the bacteria away from the get-go will prevent the flu from grabbing hold, and there are those that feel their children will be better protected from bacteria if allowed to build up their own immunity. Both approaches come from a place of safety and productivity: health concerns. And it is health concerns that lead the FDA and USDA to limit raw milk consumption. Last time I checked, it was my call whether I get the ol’ flu shot, but albeit under the same argument, milk – and milk drinkers -- isn’t getting the same respect.
I’m not about to take this for granted.
Maine is a treasure trove of raw dairy producers, whose milk screams of our sea-licked land. Health benefits aside, raw milk just tastes…pure. It is the unadulterated connection between animal and man, without the dulling effects of higher heat-treating that steal much of the flavor in-hand with its corresponding bacteria. And yogurt is an emphasis on that untouched product: raw yogurt can reach the sweet lactic farminess of a young cheese, without the assistance of acid or age. Here are a handful of folks who are making the most of Maine's sweet 1-in-5 situation:
Jean Koons in Sidney, Maine is an Australian cheesemaker who relocated to Maine but sticks to her homeland recipes. Jean makes raw goat and cows milk yogurts with absolutely no stabilizers or thickeners, resulting, as she puts it, in a “runny” goat yogurt and a denser but still softer jersey cow one. The higher fat content of the cows milk naturally thickens it over the low-fat construct of the goat. The goat I stir into muesli for a high-protein/scrumptiousness milk substitute, the cow I shower with buttery granola and sweet banana.
Fuzzy Udder Farm
Jesse Dowing very recently started up his dairy in Unity, Maine, and so far I’ve been lucky to grab hold of a pint of his much-coveted raw sheep’s milk yogurt: a thick, buttery, lanolin-bomb of a treat. Sweet toasted nuts and warm milk, grass and the ever-comforting sensation of licking wool. Yum. I like acidity to cut the gaminess and high-fat of sheep’s milk, so I vote blackberries or currants here, perhaps tart apples in the Fall.
Lauren Pignatello works some darn fierce magic with her certified organic Jersey cow’s milk in Coopers Mills, Maine. Churning out kefir, greek, and cream-top yogurts, Swallowtail is worth driving the 2-hr round trip it took me to snatch up their goods at a tiny farmstand. Now, lucky Portlanders, Swallowtail is representing well at two of our weekly farmers markets. The cream-top yogurt with Maine maple syrup and wild blueberries is worth the tiny tummy ache its decadence has been known to bestow upon me. Worth it.
Painted Pepper Farm
Lisa Reilich uses Nigerian goats milk to create luscious, velvety yogurt at her farm in Steuben, Maine. Available plain (always my favorite, for it's screaming assuredness of the land) as well as infused with local maple syrup or lemon. A thicker alternative to Kennebec Cheesery’s goat yogurt, I love this one any way imaginable, but the natural tartness of goats milk pairs sublimely with sweet berries and preserves.
*Granted, every state has offerings of its own to seek out and feast on. A little drive may be worth it, to visit the farm itself and get your goods right from the source: in addition the 10 retail-friendly raw milk states, 15 others allow on-farm sales. I find this a wonderful, accessible reference for finding your nearest raw milk providers, as well as feasting on raw power info!: www.realmilk.com .