Babies make lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk, but 10,000 years ago, babies after weaning could no longer make that enzyme and could no longer digest milk.
Some time in the interval between then and now, men started raising livestock in the form of camels and cattle and over many generations humans evolved to continue lactase production into adulthood. That meant that humans were able to continue drinking milk throughout their lives. Before that happened, people would remove the lactose sugar from milk by fermenting it.
From our domesticated cattle, we receive many gifts – milk, cheese and butter. Thanks to Louis Pasteur’s experiments, the modern world has pasteurization – a process using heat to kill any microorganisms that might be in the milk. Through homogenization, cream no longer separates from the other components of commercially sold milk.
In my father’s time, growing up in the Bronx before the Great Depression, you brought your aluminum containers to a local shop where milk was ladled out of a big milk can. Later on, glass bottles would be delivered to homes. Now you buy it in stores in bottles, containers or plastic bags, depending on where you live. As with much of our food in First World countries, people have lost touch with nature and your packaged foods no longer resemble their original form (think ground beef, hot dogs, etc.).
Here in farm country, it is quite different. Your chicken was probably running around the yard a few hours ago. Fruits are picked off the trees and sugar cane is in its natural state in the sugar cane fields. And so it is with milk.
A while back, I passed a sign on one of the local roads that indicated they sold “leche caliente” (literally “hot milk”). I was curious as to why someone would be selling hot milk and was told this was what they called raw milk. It is caliente because it comes straight from the cow, and therefore is warm from the cow’s warm body.
Yesterday, I had my first taste of this milk. My neighbor and I were hiking and went up to her family dairy farm. There we saw the cats, dogs, horses and the milk cows with their calves.
It appeared that the cows were not milked dry, but some was left for the thirsty calves. During milking, the hind legs of the cows were tied together, and when it was time for them to join their calves, they were untied and shooed out to pasture.
We were all offered some leche caliente, and I was a bit hesitant at first, so I watched the process unfold. First, a little chocolate powder was placed into each glass, and then about 5 or 10ml of alcohol was added to kill any germs that might be there.
The teat of the cow was cleaned and then the milk squirted directly into the glass.
Then it was time to drink the finished product. I felt that since everyone was having it, and no one had a history of becoming sick from it, that it was safe to drink. I normally don’t like warm milk, but it tasted pretty good – maybe the addition of chocolate helped.
Two people did get upset stomachs from it later on, but it turns out that they both were lactose intolerant and drank the milk anyway. This morning I let them know about products like Lactase that they probably can get here.
For me, this morning I had really bad stomach cramps and some diarrhea, lasting several hours, but I am fine now. Possibly from not being used to raw milk. Some foods do bother me here, but probably because my system is not used to it – such as beans (frijoles) being a staple and served with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So – such are the pleasures and pain that comes from exploring the cuisines around the world. Until next time – have a great day !