If you are one of the small but growing number of folks who are considering giving up animal-based foods due to your concern over factory farming, a visit to Champoeg Creamery might well change your mind. On five acres outside of St. Paul, Charlotte Smith operates a small, old-fashioned raw milk dairy. In many large commercial dairies, cows pass their days in a feedlot, up to their hocks in manure; at Champoeg Creamery, the Jersey cows – Brielle, Gigi, Angelina, Jacqueline – stand knee deep in green pasture, chewing thoughtfully, meditating on the diverse merits of clover and orchard grass.
Charlotte tells me she has chosen Jerseys for their small size, mild temper, and for the rich, creamy milk they produce – higher in butterfat than the milk of other breeds. Although much of what Charlotte has to say about raw milk is in direct opposition to conventional dietary wisdom, her belief is one I share: that whole, natural foods are better for human health than food that has been intensely processed and manipulated.
Thus, raw milk, full of beneficial bacterial and live enzymes, is an aid to the digestion, boosts the immune system, and helps prevent allergies and asthma, as shown in European studies. Milk as a whole food – not non-fat, not 1%, not protein-added, and free of antibiotics– is easily metabolized. Fat, so long considered a villain, is a necessary component of milk, enabling humans to digest and use milk’s protein. “Ninety-eight percent of lactose-intolerant people can digest raw, whole milk,” Charlotte says.
Charlotte milks only two of her cows, producing enough milk to serve her 75 customers, some of whom drive from as far as Portland once a week to pick up the precious commodity. In Oregon, it is illegal to sell raw milk in stores, so Charlotte’s customers must come to her. All customers are required to take a farm tour – “grass to glass” – in order to understand and feel confident in Champoeg Creamery’s production methods.
Raw milk’s safety depends on healthy, pasture-fed cows, the best equipment, fastidious sanitation, frequent pathogen testing, and careful milk handling.
Since Charlotte does not have that one final safeguard –pasteurization–that large commercial dairies depend upon to ensure the safety of their milk, she is absolutely meticulous in her milking. Her ability to stay in business depends on it. After bringing the cow into the milking stall, Charlotte washes the udder with hot soapy water and iodine. Weekly, she performs a check for mastitis; her cows are mastitis-free. Should a cow develop this milk-gland infection, its milk is discarded until the cow is cured. It is nearly impossible to check a large number of cows weekly, for this infection: on large, conventional dairies cows often have chronic mastitis.
To insure that their milk will pass inspection, commercial dairies administer daily doses of antibiotics to their cows, antibiotics that pass into the milk. The milk from the cows of Champoeg Creamery contains no antibiotics.
Champoeg Creamery’s milking equipment is cleaned with bleach, hot soapy water, and vinegar and air-dried after every use. The milking stall is cleaned and washed down after every milking. The milk is poured into sterilized half-gallon glass jars and immediately submerged in an ice water bath for fast cooling. Every month, Charlotte tests for pathogens: the enemy here is E. coli. Champoeg Creamery has never had a problem with this pathogen, but a raw milk dairy in southern Oregon was recently shut down due to the bacteria, and there is a movement afoot, spearheaded by corporate dairy interests, to ban raw milk entirely, for its supposed danger. “Raw milk is becoming the poster child for food freedom,” Charlotte says.
“This country has yet to make tobacco illegal, although its health benefits are zero, and it has been proven for 40 years to cause disease and death. Yet the State of Oregon is considering making raw milk— of proven health benefit and
less risk – illegal.”
After the “grass” part of my tour, Charlotte takes me into the house for the “glass.” She shows me the large refrigerator full of half-gallon bottles of rich, golden Jersey milk, thick with cream that has risen to the top. In her kitchen we sample the cheese she makes – feta, cheddar, mozzarella, and ricotta. We drink a glass of creamy milk. It tastes richer and more complex than the milk that I normally buy. “There is terroir for milk, just like wine,” she says. “I know it well enough that I can taste which cow it came from.”
Charlotte is passionate about her calling. She tells me how her children suffered from eczema and numerous colds and ear infections before they started drinking raw milk. Since then, the whole family has been in excellent health Two years ago, after losing her source for raw milk yet again, Charlotte decided that since she had 5 acres of lush, green pastures, she would begin producing the highest quality raw milk to be found anywhere. “It was a very intuitive decision,” she says. “I felt, ‘of course, this is how it’s supposed to be!’”
Cheese-Making Classes in Salem
Charlotte Smith’s calling is a labor of love. In order to support her passion for raw-milk, she teaches cheese-making classes in her own large kitchen and in other locations, including Portland. This summer she is collaborating with Evann Remington of Fresh and Local Foods (formerly Organic Fresh Fingers) to offer two cheese-making classes in Salem for the first time.
Students will learn the art and science of cheese-making step-by-step, learning from experience what each stage of cheese production looks and feels like. Classes will cover everything from the coagulation process of turning milk into firm curds, cutting and stirring the curds, and forming the blocks of cheese.
On July 21, the class will be on Feta Cheese, which is traditionally made with sheep or goat’s milk; in this class students will make feta with raw milk from Champoeg Creamery, resulting in aflavorful and versatile cheese.
On August 4, Charlotte will teach the art of making Mozzarella and Ricotta turning Champoeg Creamery milk into firm curds and the curds into milky, smooth balls of mozzarella, perfect for pizza, lasagna, or caprese.
The classes run from 11 am to 2 pm and will be held at Fresh n’ Local Foods, 4070 Fairview Industrial Dr SE. Salem. These arehands-on classes; every two students share equipment. Students will eat the cheese they make, and enjoy a glass of local wine as they taste and learn.
Cheese-making supplies will be available for purchase, so that students may apply their newly acquired cheese-making skills at home.
Classes are limited to 12 participants. Cost is $65, which includes a $10 discount on cheese-making supplies. For more information, or to register for a class, contact Charlotte at 503-860-6286