If you begin with the best possible milk, your homemade cultured dairy foods — such as sour cream, yogurt, kefir, butter, and cheeses — will turn out the healthiest they can possibly be!
Yes, culturing dairy makes it more healthy (reducing sugar and increasing probiotics and shelf-life) on its own. However, combine that with starting with best quality milk, and you'll not only get even healthier results, very likely the flavor will surpass anything you've ever tasted!
It's sooo worth it to choose the best milk you can for your homemade cultured dairy foods.
However, you might be surprised to learn that the best milk is determined by more than just how the milk is processed. It is also determined by what animal produces the milk and by the animal’s diet.
Here's the lineup, from best to worst, and some additional information to help you choose the best milk you can.
Overall Milk Choices
Here are the choices of milk, from the best choice to the worst choice.
- raw, whole milk from a pastured animal
- non-homogenized, pasteurized whole milk from a pastured animal
- non-homogenized, pasteurized whole milk from a grain-fed animal
- homogenized, pasteurized milk (whole is better than skimmed)
- ultra-pasteurized milk (whole or skimmed) — cannot use for culturing at all; so severely denatured it is incapable of supporting a culture
The Animal Breed Matters
Raw, whole milk — with its abundant healthy fat, probiotics, vitamins, minerals and enzymes — is the best choice. It is not processed at all on its way from farm to table, other than milking it out or chilling it. Yet, not all raw, whole milk is created equal. Some of it comes from less desirable breeds. When choosing your raw, whole milk, you actually have two choices:
- raw, whole milk from an old-fashioned breed of pastured animal, such as Jersey, Guernsey, Red Devon, or Brown Swiss cows, or goats, or sheep
- raw, whole milk from a modern breed of pastured animal, such as the commercial Holstein
What’s wrong with milk from modern breeds of cow? The milk protein suffers a genetic mutation, making it unstable in our digestive tracts. This mutation is linked to serious health issues, such as auto-immune disease, heart disease, type-1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia. Source: Keith Woodford’s Devil in the Milk.
Also, the modern Holstein’s milk contains more water and less nutrition ounce for ounce. According to Joann S. Grohman of Keeping a Family Cow, you:
“have to drink one and two-thirds glasses of Holstein milk to receive the nutrients you get from a glass of Jersey milk.”
What are those nutrients? Milkfat, protein, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamins A, D, E and K, and all the other vitamins and minerals typically found in milk.
So if you can get milk from an old-fashioned animal, please do!
The Animal Diet Matters
Now let's talk diet. The healthiest milk (and meat) animals are raised on rich and diverse pastures offering high-quality grasses and legumes — a natural and diverse environment. They have plenty of sun, room, and favorite foods. These are happy and healthy animals.
Conventional feedlots or dairy farms lure the consumer with cheap and convenient milk and meat, but this scenario breeds problems such as: animal stress and abuse, environmental pollution, rampant use of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs, and food with overall less nutritional value.
The ideal diet for pastured animals is high-quality grasses and legumes. On this diet, the animals feast on rapidly growing pasture, ensuring their fat (both in meat and milk) offers high amounts of vitamin D, along with the other essential fat soluble vitamins (A, E, and K). The fatty acid ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is more likely to remain in its God-given balance of 3 to 1. Essential fatty acids in the right balance are necessary for growth and are found in virtually every cell membrane in the body.
Contrast this natural diet with factory-raised animals, whose diets are designed to boost productivity at lower costs. The animals are fed primarily genetically modified grain and soy, in addition to unhealthful fillers such as garbage and stale food. Their omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio shifts to an unhealthful 20 to 1 in many cases.
When choosing grass-fed dairy from cows, goats, or sheep, look for animals that are raised with abundant access to pasture, and where clean milking conditions are in evidence, such as clean containers, a clean milking area, and healthy looking animals. Some grain offered during milking time is allowable.
The Bottom Line
Make sure your milk is the best you can get. And no matter what: always, always remember that if you’re culturing dairy at home yourself, you’re making whatever milk you get better.
We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. This post may contain special links through which we earn a small commission if you make a purchase (though your price is the same).