Raw Milk and Delicious Cheese:  Healthy Living in Cotacachi

What does healthy living in Cotacachi, Ecuador have to do with raw milk producers in the United States being harassed by the FDA? Nothing if you think that raw milk is unfit for human consumption. If, however, you think unpasteurized milk is rich in nutritious enzymes and good for your health, you may be happy to know that both raw cow and goat milk can be bought hassle-free in Ecuador, plus raw cheese and raw fresh cream.

One morning while exploring Cotacachi, Gary and I came upon a woman going house-to-house leading a goat.  She’d knock on the door and if anyone wanted milk, she’d milk the goat right there on the spot.  Bingo—home delivery.

The nanny goat was very accommodating and customers came to the door with their cups to receive their milk.

We tried a warm cup and it was delicious.

Even though Gary was raised on a farm in Minnesota and drank raw milk as a child, we had become persuaded, or perhaps brainwashed by the media into thinking that simple, pure, natural milk and milk products are either not good enough without additives or are even dangerous for human consumption. We’d come to this conclusion over the years without giving it much conscious thought and as a result, neither of us drank much milk, certainly not raw.

No, never. I’d shudder at the thought of all those germs propagating in un-pasteurized milk. Yuck!

But I had also developed the niggling, suspicious feeling that milk that was pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, homogenized, vitaminized, de-fatted, calcium-added, enriched, new and improved, had been tinkered with so much that it probably was dead and devoid of anything naturally healthy.  More and more evidence points to the fact that the more we tinker with, add, delete, or enrich a product, the less nutritious and healthy it is.

My teeth are soft and prone to cavities yet I drank plenty of milk as a child. It was brought from the mainland to Oahu where we lived because milk wasn’t readily available there. If this calcium-enriched milk was so good for me, why are my teeth so bad?  

My father died at 90 with all his teeth intact.  I wasn’t so lucky.  I am beginning to suspect it was because he drank fresh, whole milk as a child and I drank something that can’t even really be called milk.

In Duluth at a weekend food cooperative, I discovered the most incredibly delicious artesanal cheese.  The “secret” was that it was made from unpasteurized raw organic milk.  Not so secret, actually, since this is the way our parents ate cheese and drank milk. 

In fact, Gary remembers life as a boy on the farm that involved drinking milk warm from the cow.  The cows’ teats were never too scrupulously cleaned before milking, either.  And my goodness, he seems to have suffered no ill effects from the milk.

But the farmers making this raw organic cheese had to practically go underground to get it made and sold.  And they absolutely couldn’t sell raw milk.  Oh no, not anything that contaminated.

They finally resorted to selling their cheeses on line and couldn’t keep up with the demand for it.  They explained to me the epiphany they had that led to what is practically a crusade for them to get nutritious raw cheese into the hungry stomachs of the public.

The farmer family told us that milk inspectors would came around to regularly test their milk to make sure it didn’t have a certain enzyme in it. While doing their own research into what constitutes healthy milk, the farmers made a startling discovery!

Can you guess?  The very enzyme that the inspectors wanted removed from the milk was the most healthful and beneficial enzyme in the milk.  This shocked and alarmed them so thoroughly that they decided to start selling products with the enzyme intact, because of all the health benefits for humans, especially children. 

With so many restrictions against selling raw milk or cheese, they opted to sell their cheeses via the internet, with great success.

Skip to Ecuador, 2008:  Gary and I visit a charming dairy where they make organic cheeses from organic raw milk.  And the cheese...oh, the cheese!  Indescribably delectable.  Pungent, smooth, aged to perfection.

Down in a stone underground vault, some of them seasoned with wine, great big perfect rounds of cheese are patiently aged for years, held at a constant temperature of 12 degrees C.  This small dairy and cheese factory is what I consider the wave of the future, with a nod to the past.

Precision-made, state-of-the-art, highly-efficient steel and copper Swiss machinery is used.  Yet there is such a strong, pervasive sense of peacefulness among the animals that I thought I was back in the 1950’s on my grandpa’s farm.

This small operation proves that we can use high-tech means to produce our food, while maintaining the low-tech ways that work best for the animals involved.  It’s a bovine paradise.

I usually feel a wave of sadness when I see vacant-eyed cows standing in filthy, smelly stalls or pens, treated as nothing more than a piece of the machinery necessary to produce a product for sale.  They are very unhappy creatures to say the least.

These cows and newborn calves on the dairy farm in Ecuador, resting in their nests of green grass, were happy animals, contentedly munching greens grown especially for them. They are Jersey cows, which Gary says produce the most butterfat, better for cheese.

The Ecuadorian dairy owners had a dream to have a Swiss-style dairy and make fine cheeses.  They found their cheese maestro on a trip to Switzerland. 

Click here for more about the cheese operation near Cotacachi.

In the U.S. the raw milk situation has gotten weird. In one case, Ohio and Kentucky police, Ohio Department of Agriculture agents, the Public Health Department and the U.S. FDA confiscated bottles of raw milk being sold to members of a  milk coop and shut the business down. The co-owner of the dairy had been passing out the bottles legally to the shareholders in the milk co-op.

He was pulled into 3 different police vehicles, shouted at and harassed repeatedly until he collapsed from the stress and was hospitalized. He was unable to milk his cows twice a day, so shareholders pitched in to milk the cows for him, while others helped with bottling and distribution.

Kentucky officials didn’t press charges against Gary Oaks, the co-owner, but Ohio charged him with selling raw milk illegally and fined him. In addition, he has legal fees and medical bills over $60,000. Oaks pleaded no contest to charges that he violated state dairy licensing and labeling laws rather than fight it.  

Selling raw milk is illegal in Ohio and Kentucky and 23 other states, although cow owners can consume the raw milk from their own cows. The members of the co-op were doing just that—drinking milk from the cows they partly owned.

The shareholders were able to present a unified front and bond into a much tighter group as a result. They still help out at the dairy and car pool to pick up their milk since Oaks cannot cross state lines to deliver it.

One member of the co-op had been prescribed a health regimen that included raw, un-pasteurized, un-homogenized milk. Many health experts now consider raw milk much healthier than pasteurized milk, which destroys beneficial bacteria and enzymes.

Read the full story here: https://www.realmilk.com/state-updates/kentucky-and-ohio-raw-milk-battleground/

More about raw milk: http://redgreenandblue.org/2009/03/09/ron-paul-wants-to-make-the-sale-of-raw-milk-legal/

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