Milk: start here

Some foods were never intended to travel. Take milk, for example, which evolved to flow from a mother’s teat down the offspring’s throat. Millennia of domestication went into diverting a growing share of bovine lactation into the human diet, until humanity now expects to take every last drop.

Regardless of how it is collected, milk is not stable and can only deteriorate with the passage of time and any warmth in its environment. In nature, milk is made to be converted into living tissue and energy, hence its value as a food. It is a cornerstone of evolution itself.

Humanity’s ingenuity at extracting this building block of growing generations is a technical tour de force that can do as much harm as good. The stress on livestock is reflected in shorter working lives, while milk itself is very fragile to handle in transit. The productive years of a cow are directly linked to the stress levels it encounters, from genetics to husbandry.

To lock in the nutritional value of milk, many producers ensure that milk is broken down into its component fractions and stabilised accordingly. The butter and milk powder plants in New Zealand are a good example of the adaptations needed to make milk an internationally traded commodity.

Closer to home, it is possible to construct a timeline for a range of dairy products, from fromage frais and cream to cheeses of all descriptions. Indeed, Oscar Wilde described cheese as “milk’s bid for eternity” in his typically pithy style.

There are a number of dairy-related categories, which are starting to take shape at the foot of this page. Start with the milk by numbers sequence for a basic grounding in the product.

Milk by numbers

Cheese by numbers

Butter by numbers

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