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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Point of brew: Raw milk, raw beer — different things!

MichaelLewisW

By
August 4, 2011 |

In 1989, Jack McAuliffe, truly the first craft brewer of the modern era with his New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, gave me a copy of “Studies on Fermentation” by Faulkner and Robb. The book is dated 1879.

What makes the book interesting is that it is the first translation into English of Louis Pasteur’s “Etude sur la Biere,” published in 1876. Of course, much of the book is devoted to Pasteur’s studies on the “diseases of beer” and illuminated by his exquisite drawings of bacteria and yeasts as he saw them under his microscope.

He also carefully, even majestically, documents his studies of the mild heat treatment of beer, which, with his similar work on wine, eventually led to widespread use of pasteurization in the food and beverage industry.

In 1886, Franz von Soxhlet, a German chemist, first suggested pasteurization of milk, and by the 1930s in the USA this mild heat treatment of milk was common; there no doubt that pasteurization has saved tens of thousands of lives by preventing the spread of disease through this formerly notorious vector.

Today, pasteurization of milk is likely the application of the technology most familiar to us, and curiously, for some, remains controversial. A piece in the Sacramento Bee of July 25 with the headline “Battle in a milk bottle brews” brought this to my attention once again. Also, oddly enough, I have recently received a couple of emails about food-borne infections particularly related to sprouts and whether brewers might have any solutions.

The Bee story involves one Pattie Chelseth, who firmly believes she should be free to produce and sell raw (unpasteurized) milk; she is not alone. Apparently, other small farmers would like to do the same thing as Pattie with apparently three objectives in mind: preserving small farms, consuming locally produced food, and benefiting from the better nutrition and flavor of raw milk. There is a small but passionate market for this product.

Pattie has come up with an interesting wrinkle, learned from other states such as Michigan where only cow owners are allowed to drink unpasteurized milk, that she is willing to protest and defend by going to jail if necessary: She has sold 15 shares in a couple of cows and claims each cow shareholder, if they wish, should be able to consume the raw milk the cows produce and feed it to their families.

Frankly, I think she is right.

Having said that, I differ with Pattie in one crucial way. It’s this: She is not prepared to produce her raw milk in an approved (state-regulated) dairy facility. As a result, Pattie is trying to establish a local ordinance in El Dorado County that would allow her and other small producers the right to sell unregulated goods such as milk, cheese and other products directly to the people who will consume them.

So far, it’s a no go with the politicians.

However, there is always pressure against regulation (except when we smart from the sting of de-regulation) and when emotions run high as in “This is all about freedom” or “… overrestrictions by our government that do not give us permission to eat healthy food.” The somnolent government/regulatory counter-argument — “We see it as a matter of food safety” — does not have the same rousing ring to it.

Given the fact that the cow’s milk and the cow’s poop come out of the same end of the animal, the need for skilled and sanitary and consistent (and hence regulated) production of raw milk is obvious and paramount.

The statistics about milk-borne diseases, and illness from products such as queso fresco that is often made from raw milk, overwhelmingly support that view: less than 1 percent of the population drinks raw milk and they account for 70 percent of milk-related disease.

Evidence and discussion by thoroughly qualified experts, including some from UC Davis, about the properties of raw milk is a function of the website www.realrawmilkfacts.com. In contrast, the evidence supporting health benefits of raw milk are underwhelming at best. Taking therefore the risks-benefits approach, raw milk is not a good bet.

Raw beer, on the other hand, is a good bet.

Many craft brewers object to pasteurization because they think it changes the flavor and flavor stability of their beers; there may be some truth to that. Coors has never used pasteurization for that reason and Millers uses filtration to achieve (if you like) cold pasteurization by filtering out potential spoilage bacteria.

But there is one rather large difference between beer and milk in this regard: Even if beer spoils and unwanted bacteria grow in it, those bacteria will not be pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria; they will merely spoil the flavor of the beer (or wine, for that matter) with no harm to human health.

The main reason for this is that beer is an acid product; that is, it has a quite low pH that is well below the pH at which pathogens can flourish. Fermented milk products such as kefir and yogurt and aged cheeses are also acidic and generally pathogen-free for the same reason. Beer contains alcohol that also helps make life difficult for pathogens as well as hop compounds that are generally anti-bacterial.

Breweries are also sanitary places; they do not have herds of cows stomping thorough the facility! In fact, dairies and slaughterhouses are the only food factories that do and they are typically major sources of food-borne illnesses, infections and intoxications.

That is one reason we cook meat. Seems to me it makes sense to heat milk, too.

— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

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