The Alchemical Kitchen: Raw Milk

By Rebecca Brenner

Where to get it, what to do with it—and why you want it.

by Rebecca Brenner

Culturing and fermenting dairy products and vegetables is a weekly (sometimes daily) exercise in the Alchemical Kitchen. Kefir and yogurt starters abound and cultured vegetables line the back corners of the refrigerator. I depend on local sources of real foods to ensure the healthiest end product. Since moving to Utah a year and a half ago, finding local vegetables, fruits, honey and breads has been wonderfully easy at the farmer’s market. However, finding high quality raw dairy products has been difficult – until I wandered into the Real Foods Market.
Rhett Roberts, owner of the Real Foods Market, in Orem, Heber, and soon to be Salt Lake, states that "if you cannot pick it, gather it, milk it, or hunt it, then it is not real food." 
Roberts established the Real Foods Market to share forgotten traditional nutrition principles and make easily available real foods. Real Foods Market is based on the philosophy that what we put into our bodies affects all aspects of our health.
So what exactly are real foods?
As food has become more industrialized, processed and packaged it has become more of a "food product." You can wander down the center aisles of any grocery store to find brightly packaged, nutritionally "enhanced" food products. Even our meats and dairy products have been greatly altered with pasteurization, antibiotics and stabilizers, making it "safer" to mass-produce and ship them.
Real Foods Market was created to offer foods the way Mother Nature intended. Roberts’ examples of what constitute real foods are: organic fruits and vegetables; wild seafood; grassfed/anti_biotic/hormone/pesticide-free beef; raw dairy products from grass-fed cows; healthy oils such as coconut and extra-virgin olive oil; free range eggs; pasture fed poultry; raw nuts and seeds; and sea vegetables. I might add the ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth and millet.
Roberts’ own quest for better health led him to pursue a diet of real, unprocessed food. However, once making the decision to eat a better diet, he had trouble locating real "unadulterated" food. He explained, "There was very little real food in the common health food store; most of it was and is just as adulterated as the food in regular grocery stores." 
He created Redmond Heritage Farms six year ago to provide raw dairy products to family, friends and those interested. Ann King, manager of Real Foods Market, explains: "Previously in Utah, the law stated that you could purchase raw milk, but only at the dairy where it was produced. This worked well for many years until many dairies closed, making it difficult to find this life-giving product. Consumers who wanted our raw milk had to travel many miles to purchase it from the farm in Redmond, Utah." Roberts and King wondered if there might be a better way to sell raw milk.
They began to work with the government to create dairy-owned stores that could sell the raw milk to the public. Their philosophy has always been to work out the details in a win/win way for all concerned. King stressed, "Rather than fight against government involvement, we have chosen to work with the government to mitigate any risks to the public. A bill was passed several years ago which allows the transportation of raw milk to farm-owned stores to be sold to the public." Real Foods Market follows tight regulations. Their raw milk must meet the same testing requirements as milk that has already been pasteurized. They test at the farm and then again after the milk arrives at the stores. 
Pasteurization-Pros and Cons 
In 1862 Louis Pasteur created a process which heated consumable liquids to kill harmful mold, yeast and bacteria (pasteurization). As we began to mass produce milk and add pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics to our cows and cow feed, pasteurization assured the removal of salmonella and other harmful bacteria. Pasteurization also destroys and/or greatly alters the healthy fats, vitamin, minerals and digestive enzymes. The removal of the enzymes creates a longer shelf-life for conventional dairy products.
Domesticated animals were first used for milk 8-10,000 years ago. Most dairy farms that sell raw milk have grass-fed cows not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Because the milk is raw, the milk is handled much more carefully on smaller dairy farms. This careful handling of the milk makes infectious agents far less likely to be present in the first place. Raw milk is considered by many current holistic nutritionists and MD’s to be a complete and properly balanced food. It has healthy, stable fats, vitamins, minerals, and digestive enzymes. Because raw milk contains lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose (milk sugar), many with lactose intolerance can drink it without the uncomfortable side effects.  
The place of raw milk in the Alchemical Kitchen
As a nutritionist, I work with clients with chronic health challenges that include addiction, arthritis, diabetes and cancer. Each individual (and health challenge) requires a unique nutrition plan. However, I use a similar philosophy as Roberts and Real Foods-all health-promoting diets need a base of real, whole, organic and local foods. I also agree that some of the base foods can be difficult to find. 
Raw milk, when cultured or fermented, becomes one of the more healing foods in the Alchemical Kitchen. With the original enzymes and stable fats intact, raw milk can be made into kefir and yogurt which have natural sources of healthy probiotics and digestive enzymes. The milk is slightly mucus-forming which is good-the mucus lines the digestive tract, giving the healthy bacteria a place to "nest." Cultured foods are also said to keep the small and large intestine clean and free of parasites.
Homemade kefir with raw milk
Kefir is sometimes referred to as the "champagne of milk" because of the effervescent quality that is created by the fermenting process. Kefir is loaded with calcium and magnesium. Trypto_phan, an essential amino acid, combines with the calcium and magnesium to create a soothing effect for the nervous system. Kefir is also high in B vitamins which help to balance the nervous system and boost the immune system.
There are two basic ways to make kefir. You can use a starter culture. Or you can obtain live kefir grains that look somewhat like little cauliflowers. Some "mothers" (live grains) have been passed down through families and across nations. If done right, your kefir "mother" could be passed down to your great grandchildren. Kefir is slightly tart and has the consistency of a drinkable yogurt. It makes a great breakfast drink.
Kefir from a starter
What you’ll need:
1 quart of raw milk (you can also substitute homemade almond milk or coconut water for the raw milk)
1 packet of kefir starter
Pour milk (or almond milk or coconut water) and kefir starter into a 1 quart Mason jar and let sit at room temperature (72 degrees) for 24 hours. It helps if your milk is at skin temperature to begin. 
After 24 hours, chill and enjoy.
You can use 6 tablespoons of this kefir as a starter for your next batch. You can do this up to six more times before you’ll need to begin again with a new starter packet.
Kefir from live grains
What you’ll need:
1 quart of raw milk
3 tablespoons of live kefir grains
Place grains and raw milk into a 1 quart sized Mason jar.
Cover and keep at room temperature for 24 hours.
Gently stir by "swirling" the jar in your hands a few times over the 24 hour period.
Strain the kefir through a cheese cloth into a clean Mason jar and place kefir grains (with some kefir still attached to grains) in a small jar. 
Within a week create your next batch of kefir by using the grains in small jar and repeating the above steps. When the grains are removed and kept, you can use them indefinitely.
Homemade Raw Milk Yogurt
Yogurt has been eaten throughout many centuries in the Swiss villages, the Middle East, Central Asia and Southern Europe. Homemade yogurt, most times, may not be as thick as store bought yogurt. It will taste slightly less tart than the kefir. Homemade yogurt is useful in making dips, sauces, and smoothies.
What you’ll need:
1 quart of raw milk
1/2 cup of a good quality yogurt or 1 packet of a yogurt starter
Pour milk into a double boiler and slowly heat to about 110 degrees.
Pour heated milk into a Mason jar and add yogurt or yogurt starter. Stir gently.
Wrap in a dish towel and place in an insulated cooler for 8 to 10 hours.
Rebecca Brenner is a nutritionist, yoga teacher and owner of Park City Holistic Health. 
Check out her website at
To learn more about Real Foods Market:

This article was originally published on November 3, 2008.