My love of milk has only increased since I was an infant, which may explain why I'm so drawn to writing about it. But I'm also fascinated by the politics of milk—and by the heated emotions that drinking the beverage—or choosing to spurn the beverage—provoke. Back in 2007—before raw milk was really a thing—I wrote an investigative feature on the controversial drink for Salon. So when an editor at Imbibe asked me if I'd like to write a story about regional dairies, of course I said yes.
As I reported this piece, I became optimistic about the re-emergence of regional dairies. Sure, the milk industry is still dominated by industrial players that co-mingle milk from hundreds of farmers—squeezing these farmers out of every last cent (hello, Horizon). But consumers are starting to get savvy about what they're drinking—not to mention who they're supporting. It's not just that they want milk that's free of antibiotics and growth hormones. (Though they do.) They also want to know where their milk is coming from—preferably traceable to one dairy as opposed to myriad unnamed dairies—and they're increasingly choosing milk from grass-fed cows, which packs a healthier punch. But perhaps most importantly, milk drinkers are looking for a milk that tastes better—and that inevitably means a milk that hasn't been "ultra-pasteurized" at 280 degrees F for two seconds, zapping it of all lactase not to mention all flavor. (Now you know why Horizon Organic lasts for months in your fridge.) After taste tests with his staff, Sam Penix, owner of Manhattan's Everyman Espresso, chose Battenkill Valley Farm's milk. "It's really malty and sweet and thick and creamy," he told me. "It pairs really well with coffee."
To read about the family-run dairies I interviewed for my story—from New York, California, and even Alabama—grab a copy of the July/August issue of Imbibe (page 62). (There are also great stories on mead, sparkling white wines, and the sugarcane industry in Martinique.) Or you can just download the PDF here: Download Imbibe_HWallace
Organic milk in glass bottles, from Straus Family Cremery