How you are a pawn in the profit of permeate

I have a rule never to blog while I’m angry, so there’s been a distinct lack of activity on Milk Maid Marian over the last week. In the end, I’ve decided to simply lay out the facts:

– Permeate is a natural part of milk, not a waste product of the cheese making process. In fact, if you sit unhomogenised milk still long enough, the permeate settles out all by itself very clearly. In other words, there is no such thing as pure milk without permeate.

– Permeate is the milk’s sugar, minerals and vitamins.

– The composition of milk (fat and protein especially) straight from the cow fluctuates wildly over the course of a year but consumers want milk that is the same all year round. Consumers also want to be able to choose skim and full cream milks.

– We call ironing out the bumps and providing the specific fat and protein content of the milk “standardisation”.

– The very small producers do not have the technology to separate all the different parts of milk to make lots of different products (like powder, casein, whey, etc). Generally, all they can do is separate the cream from the milk, which is how they standardise it.

– The larger milk companies cannot limit themselves to the tiny niches of these smaller companies, so make food ingredients as well (like the stuff that goes in sports drinks, pizza crusts, etc). This means that the milk is broken into its constituents (which include permeate) with a filter then re-mixed to standardise milk. This is what the term “modified milk” on cartons means – still 100% pure milk.

– Consumer group Choice has done lots of work on permeate and their tests confirm no taste or nutritional difference between milk that has permeate remixed and that without.

– Permeate is nothing new – been part of milk processing for years and years.

– Small and specialty milk processors need to find a point of difference in order to make milk sales viable because their cost of production is much higher.

Draw your own conclusions!

Ethical milk – which brand to buy?

There’s a feeling “out there” in the Twitterverse that milk aint what it used to be. So, what to choose?

The first piece of good news is that there’s lots you don’t need to worry about. Growth hormones are illegal on Australian dairy farms for a start. Free range cows are also the norm (I haven’t seen a housed herd in Australia and wouldn’t even know where to find one).

Thanks to what raw-milk advocates often call Australia’s “ridiculously stringent” food safety laws, you can be confident your dairy foods are safe for even your most frail family members; the Chinese melamine disaster won’t happen here. Despite the marketing campaigns of a large multinational corporation, permeate (check my all about permeate post to find out more) is also safe and nutritious.

If want farmers to receive a fair price for milk, you can still shop at the big supermarkets with a clear conscience if you buy a brand-name milk. It’s even better if you can buy the Devondale brand of dairy products because they are made by the 100% farmer-owned co-op, Murray Goulburn. If you can access a farmstead brand of milk, that’s okay too. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t find or afford a farmstead brand though – very, very few dairy farmers can afford to set up a milk processing plant after all and we are grateful that you are supporting us by choosing not to buy the generic stuff.

What’s in your milk and why permeate is a dirty word

“We only drink milk that doesn’t have any of that permeate stuff you guys add to your milk,” a friend told my husband yesterday.

We don’t add anything to milk. At the farm, milk comes straight from the cows through a cooler into a refrigerated stainless steel vat for collection by the co-op. What happens there is more complex but no more sinister. Basically, fresh milk on Australia’s supermarket shelves has been heated (pasteurised) to make sure any bugs are killed, mixed so the cream doesn’t rise to the top (homogenised) and filtered.

Filtering the milk means you get to choose milk with your favourite protein and fat content – whether that’s skim or milk with an “extra dollop of cream”. It also helps the co-op deal with the natural variation in the protein and fat content of milk over a season. Yesterday, for example, our herd averaged 4.49 per cent butterfat and 3.39 per cent protein whereas, back in October, it got as low as 3.57 per cent butterfat and 3.28 per cent protein.

Dairies have been dealing with this variation in milk production and tastes for hundreds of years by separating cream from milk to make other foods like butter, cream and yoghurt.

So, where does “permeate” come into it? When the milk is filtered to even out fat and protein, the sugars, minerals and vitamins in milk are separated before going back into the milk. Some nerd gave them this ugly name (I think it sounds like plastic) and it’s been used and abused ever since.