If you produce milk there are very strict legal guidelines. One of which is that the proportion of butterfat in the milk must not fall below 3.5%. Before you throw your hands up in horror, remember an ordinary sliced loaf can be over 3.9% fat. Mind you, we bred and fed for milk quality and the milk we produced was over 4.5%. It’s better for butter and cheese production. Not only that, but frankly, it tastes so much better.
When I was sent to school and tried my first bottle of school milk I point blank refused to believe it was milk. It took them a week to get me to drink the disgusting stuff. Pasteurisation is as good for milk as it is for beer.
Trading Standards, Environmental Health and other bodies watch over milk. I remember one farmer being approached by Trading Standards. He had a milk round and the Trading Standards department had had complains from some people that he’d been watering his milk.
To be fair to Trading Standards, they didn’t go in gung ho, because the complaints were a bit unusual in their distribution. They came from one street. If the farmer had been watering his milk they’d have expected complaints scattered across his entire milk round. Not only that but when they took samples, there was no added water in the milk. So what they did was stay with him and watch him milk. Eventually they cracked the problem.
Cows are creatures of habit. They would come in to be milked and stand in the same place in the shippon. This meant that they were milked in the same order. Each cow’s milk would be collected, poured through the cooler and then go into the bottling plant.
As this was happening, another lad was putting bottles in the crate and loading the crates onto the pickup. He loaded them in the same order, and of course did his round in the same order. What this meant was that customers often got their milk not merely from the same farm, but from the same cow!
In the case of those customers who were complaining, ‘their’ cow was in early lactation, pushing out a lot of milk. But she was producing it with less fat and protein than she would do later in lactation. In legal terms, we have a cow who is producing whole milk which isn’t legally whole milk. It was nearer to semi-skimmed.
The answer that the Trading Standards people came up with was for the farmer to introduce a holding tank in the system so the milk was more mixed. There were no more complaints.
But back then, people got their milk in glass bottles. The average milk bottle could make over 22 trips, and a broken bottle is still recyclable as glass.
Now there was one minor problem, blue tits used to break through the foil top and eat the cream.
Anyway the supermarkets stepped in. They drove the price of milk down to undercut the doorstep delivery. This they did in several ways. One way was to skim off the cream. (I know I know, the major retailers have been metaphorically skimming off the cream for years but this time they did it for real.)
You see, in their eyes, there was a lot of wasted cream in the system. Whole milk only had to be 3.5% fat and people were getting it at 4.5% fat, and worse than that, they weren’t paying anything extra for it.
But if you standardise milk down to 3.5% you’ve got all that extra cream which costs you nothing because you’ll sell the standardised milk at the same price as real milk. Not only that but you can then sell the cream as well.
Also if you homogenise the milk so that the cream doesn’t rise to the top, nobody will ever notice. After all they’ll not be able to measure the missing cream if it’s not visible.
Trust me, the milk tastes pathetic, but supermarkets have been able to make money out of it; especially when they didn’t have to worry about bottles but just sold it in plastic containers that were somebody else’s problem.
Oh yes, and the blue tits? Well like all birds they cannot digest lactose, so milk is no good to them. And now with homogenised, standardised, and grossly attenuated milk, there’s nothing in the bottle for them anyway.
I did put together a collection of stories. Some about now, some tales I was told about my grandfather and farming round Barrow in the war.
They’re available in paperback, or on kindle, but you can read them on any phone or tablet if you download the free kindle app.
It’s called, ‘And sometimes I just sits?’
Yours for 99p for the ebook and £4.50 for the paperbook.