Discovering Raw Milk
A short drive on a Sunday afternoon into the countryside just outside of Whitchurch, Hampshire, brought us to Peak House Farm; a small 120 year old farmhouse surrounded by rolling fields. This was our first visit to a dairy farm and we were excited as we knew that this was no ordinary farm. The Stevens family are 4th generation dairy farmers and have a passion for the production of raw and unprocessed milk. In fact, their farm is the only place to buy raw milk, direct from the producer to the consumer, within 40 miles. With much talk about the price of milk and the tough times dairy farmers are having at the moment, we were very keen to find out more and support a local producer.
We’ve all become accustomed to highly processed milk sold everywhere in huge plastic bottles and at a very low price. This is milk that has been pasteurised (rapidly heated and cooled again), standardised (butterfat is removed and then put back in to make whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk) and homogenised (shaken to make all the fat molecules so small that they cannot rise to the top). All in all, from dairy to the home, the milk you drink from your fridge can already be about two weeks old! Milk from Peak House Farm is never more than 48 hours old when it you buy it from them. But that’s not all; milk that has not been highly processed, is purported to have health benefits. It is sensible to think that by keeping milk in its natural state would allow for nutrients, healthy bacteria and enzymes to remain in maximum quantities and in a form most suitable for digestion, such as Vitamin D and Calcium. There is much to discover (and debate) about the supposed benefits of raw milk and, as we’re not scientists or nutritionists, we will leave it up to you to find out more and make up your own mind.
Some consumers hold concerns about becoming ill from drinking raw milk. We are led to believe that the risk to healthy adults is very small (perhaps even less than eating shellfish, undercooked chicken or bagged salad) but there are groups who are particularly at risk: pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, the very young and the very old. By law, the farm labels the milk with the statement: “This milk has not been heat treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health.” What is important to take into consideration is that Peak House Farm is a small, well-managed farm with the highest of hygiene standards. They keep healthy grass-fed cows, their milk has been tested and the farm inspected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
We were lucky enough to witness the cows being milked at the farm during our visit. We were amazed at the placid nature of these beautiful animals and the way they patiently waited for their turn in the milking shed. It was fascinating to see the cows with their full udders getting hooked up to the milking machines and then watch the fresh milk pump and splash through the system. With a little bit of a surprise (for us), the suction device releases from the cow’s teats once the milk flow begins to reduce and the udder has reduced in size. We discovered that there are 100 milking cows on the farm, with 120 youngstock and one lucky bull… With a variety of breeds on the farm, the dairy is assured of cows full of vitality, balance and longevity. Between spring and autumn, they feed on the grass in neighbouring fields and in winter they are housed in open barns and have plenty of warm hay to lie on. Between them, they produce 2,500 litres of milk per day, seven days a week and 52 weeks of the year!
Something of a novelty for us was the self-service approach to buying your fresh raw milk from the farm. Housed in a small room in one of the farm’s outbuildings, a vending machine allows you to buy sterilised glass bottles for £1 and another allows you to purchase quantities of either 1 or 2 litres of milk. We took great joy in doing this and we can’t wait to return with our reusable bottles to fill them up with creamy milk. A litre is £1 (that’s about 57p for a pint) and we hurried home to conduct a ‘tasting’. The milk was, as you would expect, gloriously fresh and clean-tasting and although it was ‘full-fat’ whole milk, it did not taste ‘fatty’ or ‘cloying’ in the mouth. We were rather naughty and experimented with adding a little of Naked Jam‘s strawberry and lavender syrup for our own strawberry milk experience.
Why not take the time to visit the farm to buy some of the freshest and most natural milk you will taste? Not even 3o minutes from Winchester, Peak House Farm is located in the small village of Cole Henley, just a few minutes outside of Whitchurch. The milk vending machine is available from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. For those of you who are looking for a short break in the country, the family also provide B&B accommodation at the farmhouse.go back