Life without milk: a year-long experiment

In the immediate aftermath of this spring’s goat troubles, we were disturbed and disappointed to face a year without abundant fresh milk. We’ve come to rely on this for so many aspects of our diet, using 2-4 gallons a week in season for cheese, yogurt, custards, cream sauces and more, while preserving it for off-season use through freezing it whole, and freezing or aging cheeses. Yet replacing this amount of milk & dairy products from off-farm sources doesn’t fit our budget or lifestyle. Discussing this, we also began to realize that an enforced change in diet could be a really interesting opportunity to broaden our cooking horizons, in a way we’d never choose on our own.

milkless_1No kids or milk this year
We’re certainly instinctive adherents to the Western European/American tradition of heavy dairy consumption, seeing milk/cheese/yogurt as near-daily requirements. Yet it’s also the case that a significant amount of world culinary traditions are far less reliant on dairy products; billions of people are sustained by healthy, diverse, tasty diets that don’t require milk. For example, based on this source, on a per-capita basis China uses almost 9 times less milk than the US does; Japan and India use 3-4 times less. Socio-economic factors play a role here, but so do culinary ones. Many Asian and African cuisines simply do not rely significantly on dairy products for flavor or nutrition; neither do traditional New World cultures. So while cutting off significant dairy for a year sounds traumatic to our Anglo taste buds, it’s also a golden opportunity to force ourselves out of our dairy-centric rut and learn a lot more about alternative diets.

We already prepare a fairly diverse menu throughout the year, relying especially heavily on German, Italian, Mexican, Filipino, and American influences. Various books and travel experiences have helped shape our cooking, as have the crops and foods we’re able to produce here. For example, Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen revolutionized the way we use peppers and taught us a great deal about preparing sauces and meats in a traditional cuisine that fits our farm’s products very well. We’ll now be looking for equivalently influential cookbooks from Asian and African traditions that will teach us equally useful background skills for preparing the vegetables, eggs, meats, and beans that otherwise form the backbone of our farm diet. For example, here are several nice meals we’ve made recently using no dairy but lots of other on-farm ingredients (listed in italics):

milkless_2Above left, Mexican pork tamal: homemade nixtamal from our own corn; fresh-smoked pork; sauce of garlic, onion, dried chiles, lard, chicken broth. Not pictured, refried beans made of cowpeas & onions fried in lard.

Above right, Filipino lumpia (egg roll): homemade wrapper of white flour & egg; filling #1 of chicken, pork, garlic, onion, dried chile, broth, organic peanut butter, annotto seeds, olive oil, vinegar; filling #2 of frozen green beans, garlic, dried chiles, fresh ginger, soy sauce.

This doesn’t mean we’ll never buy dairy; we’ll likely continue purchasing occasional treats of interesting cheeses from Goatsbeard Farm or World Harvest as we always have, and we’ll continue buying bulk organic butter as we can’t easily make that from goat’s milk anyway. But we won’t replace the abundance of our own diverse products, and that will make for a very interesting year in the kitchen.

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