Lancashire and raw milk

Started by broombank, January 24, 2024, 04:55:33 PM

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There is a big scandal in the UK at the moment around E coli infections in Lancashire and Scotland which have it is said been traced back to Mrs Kirkham's raw milk Lancashire. This is an iconic cheese with a long family pedigree and a scrupulous reputation. What comes back to me is what happened to Errington twenty years ago. They are a highly respected raw milk cheese maker in the Scottish borders who were accused of selling a contaminated blue called Dunsyre. It was never proved that the infection came from them but it was part of a concerted campaign to kill raw milk cheese making as the Health and Safety people despise it. However they survived with their reputation dented but not destroyed. They make a strong sheep's milk blue called Lanark which is Scotlands version of Roquefort. They also make hard sheep cheese called Corra Linn and also a goats milk version. Anyway just to spite them I decided to make Lancashire the traditional  way. Paul Thomas in his book describe  it as not 'one for beginners' and I can see why. The cheese is made on two or more sequential days. The first lot of curd is allowed to sour naturally at room temperature and is then added to the second or last day's curd at a neutral ph. In my case the first day's was at ph 4.70 and the second at 6.0 . The curds are then thoroughly milled and mixed before being dry salted and then moulded. The mess generated by this process was considerable and difficult to contain. However it is now in the press. The real enthusiast could make over three days and mix all three batches of curd. That was one step too far for me. It explains what Mrs Kirkham's has a distinctly sour edge which contributes massively to its character. I had to use pasteurised unhomogenised organic milk for mine as after the Dunsyre blue scandal sales of raw milk direct to the public in Scotland were banned.


I think these kinds of things are unfortunate, but it's good opportunity to understand the risks of raw milk.  Regardless of the producer, the risk is there.  Sometimes people get the impression that as long as you know the producer is "good", then there is no risk.  This is just not supported by the evidence.  Milk production standards in most of Europe, the UK, the US and Canada are very high.  Your producer is almost certainly good.  However outbreaks happen even to the best producers.  There is even risk with pasteurised milk, though it's reportedly about 1000 times less than raw milk.  There is no such thing as no risk.

The question of whether the risk is acceptable is difficult.  I always tell people to do their own research.  In countries like the US and UK (where I've done some preliminary reading), there are millions of people consuming raw milk products every day.  There are a few serious illnesses every year.  There are clusters of deaths every decade.  Your personal chance of serious illness or death is on the order of 1 in a million each year.  You are unlikely to get seriously ill or die due to this in your lifetime.

From a societal perspective, though, people are *guaranteed* to become seriously ill or die over time.  I think it is completely *wrong* to conclude that Health and Safety people despise raw milk in general.  They simply don't think the benefits outweigh the costs to society.  I disagree with them, but it doesn't make their standpoint irrational.  If we want to change people's perceptions, we need to be careful not to belittle them.  Disregarding their point of view simply creates a standoff and they are in a better strategic position to "win".  I am sure that most people who have a strong stance against raw milk don't believe there is *any* benefit at all.  It doesn't help that the vast majority of raw milk supporters regard it as a magical cure all simply because it is "natural".  Or that the vast majority of supporters believe that there is no risk at all as long as they are "careful".  It's easy to see how even rational people can overlook the reasons why raw milk is worth the risk, and think that they must protect the uneducated masses.

If we want to change the culture, we need to present a rational, balanced and factual position that rational people can understand.  "Us vs. Them" isn't going to help us.


Mike - that is one of the sanest most dispassionate accounts of this subject I have ever read ! I agree with all of it. It's difficult not to revert to conspiracy theory mode when there are undoubtedly a few members of the health and safety brigade who are zealots. The majority are not and are merely doing their job. Life is full of risks - it's all a question of sensible weighing up of priorities. Thankyou anyway.


I like how Mike calls out that there is a risk with Pasteurized milk as well.  When I took microbiology in university, my prof told us she would not eat any dairy product that could potentially been out of a refrigerated environment for an unknown period of time, because e-coli has a 20 minute life cycle.  I think she went to an extreme, and personally I think pasteurization, particularly the high temperature pasteurization that is becoming so common in the U.S.,  is more about giving the milk a longer shelf life.  But that is my opinion.  The main point is no matter your milk source, be careful with it. 

Also interesting to point out, about 100 people choke to death on ball point pens each year, therefore you also might want to promote a ban on ball point pens.  Or we can just leave the risks people want to take up to themselves...


I googled to check out that stat.  I'm touching ball point pens ever again!  :o  Apparently pen caps account for between 3-8% of accidentally inhaled objects.  To be fair, I now know where all my bloody pen caps went to!