It looked so lovely just sitting there in the case, as if it had been waiting for me to come along: a wedge of butter-yellow cheese, turning a rich gold color toward its curved edge. I noticed it because of how lonely it looked, surrounded only by a few other wedges of the same cheese on a mostly empty shelf in the refrigerated section at the far rear of Georgia's Farm to Market. It looked as if all the other cheese around it had already been bought up, and these few languishing slices were the only ones left.
That meant it had to be good. Right? I placed the wedge -- called Raw Milk Brick -- in my basket and headed out.
Raw Milk Brick comes from Sand Creek Farms, a family-run farm outside Calvert (halfway between Houston and Waco) that, at least according to the pictures on its website, appears to be the bucolic embodiment of what sheltered city dwellers think of when they wax rhapsodic about rural living: Little girls hold tiny piglets in their arms while cows meander calmly across early morning, fog-covered pastures.
Sand Creek is one of several dozen farms in Texas that offers raw milk for sale; it also offers cheese made with the stuff, which comes from the herd of 30-odd grass-fed, growth hormone-free cows.
Raw milk advocates claim that the pasteurization process (which has only been in place since the late 1800s) destroys beneficial bacteria and nutrients in cow's milk. Raw milk is high in vital nutrients like enzymes, proteins and vitamins in part because it generally comes from grass-fed cows, whose diets lend higher amounts of vitamins A and D to the milk.
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However, raw milk can also carry the risk of being contaminated by harmful bacteria, and there is an ongoing debate about whether or not the pasteurization process does, indeed, lower the nutritional content of milks, cheeses and other dairy products. Anti-raw milk proponents seem to rest their arguments on the potential and numerous deadly perils that may visit you if you consume raw milk, although our ancestors did so for thousands of years prior to the Industrial Revolution. It's not the intrinsic nature of milk that's changed; it's the way modern society processes and obtains it in bulk that makes it dangerous when unpasteurized. Small, family-run farms like Sand Creek don't generally run those same kind of risks in their operations.
Luckily, we live in a state that still allows consumers to weigh risks and potential benefits for themselves, and farms like Sand Creek are still able to sell their raw milk products to many eager customers through the farm itself, co-ops throughout the state and a few grocery stores like Georgia's. The wedge of Raw Milk Brick I found at Georgia's for $5 can also be purchased directly from the farm for $15 a pound, along with gallons of raw milk, yogurt, whey and even kefir.
The Raw Milk Brick had a thick, stout taste to it -- like a brick house. It tasted faintly of cheddar but mostly of pure, creamy, slightly tangy, buttery milk. It was as if someone had taken buttermilk and condensed it down to a solid form. I put a dollop of jalapeno-cranberry jelly on it and ate it with buttery crackers -- a fantastic pairing of tang and spice with cream and butter, all with a nice crunch at the end.
And, hey, after eating a whole wedge of raw milk cheese, I didn't even die. Chalk one up for Sand Creek Farm.