Skimming cream image from http://chiotsrun.com. Click image for old-fashioned method of making butter.
With all the fuss going on lately about raw milk, it is a good idea to have a look at the history of the dairy industry and how we have gotten to this point. Let’s call it part two of our Factory Farm History 101. Read the first part here about distillery dairies in New York. This is taken from Anne Mendelson’s book Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages in which she discuses three technical ‘breakthroughs’ that allowed dairy processors to “take apart nature’s perfect food and put it back together with selling points nature hadn’t thought of.” When you read the following discussion of homogenization, just try a little experiment – when you see the word ‘milk’ switch it with traditional culture. Along with the homogenization and standardization of milk has come the sterilization of the diversity of human interactions resulting in a bland homogenized culture.
The following is from the chapter The Story of Modern Milk. By the way there are lots of great recipes in Anne Mendelson’s book as well.
Brave New Milk
The first breakthrough, in the 1880s, was the mechanical separation of cream by centrifuge, far more thorough than any hand skimming. The next came in 1890, when a University of Wisconsin dairy chemist invented the eponymous Babcock test for measuring the precise fat content of milk — at the time, the chief indicator of quality. These two advances led to intense growth in the butter industry, which became the most lucrative destination for milk. Old-style farmstead buttermaking declined, while dairying regions became dotted with small factories called creameries that bought up shipments of high-Babcock-score milk and produced butter from cream so efficiently centrifuged that, like the cream my parents remembered buying in tiny Creamery, Pennsylvania, it had to be spooned rather than poured.