The Path to Raw Milk: Choosing the Perfect Milk for You

The path toward better milk can be confusing. This healthy milk guide explores options from sustainable plant-based milk to organic dairy options, and finally, raw milk.

raw milk and non homogenized milk in glass jars on a kitchen counter

Moo-ve Over, Dairy Confusion: Raw Milk and Other Awesome Alternatives

With the rise of dietary restrictions and a focus on healthier lifestyles, the dairy aisle and your local farm have exploded with a plethora of milk options. I think I have tried enough to guide you to make the right milk choice for YOU. This guide will be your compass, navigating the world of milk and helping you find the perfect option as work your way toward raw milk (my favorite choice!). If you are interested in what a raw milk pickup might look like, you can check out this reel showing a typical pickup in my area.

This journey is more than just about milk. It’s about making conscious choices that resonate with our lifestyle and beliefs. If you are here, you are probably searching for a healthier lifestyle, and the internet options can be super confusing. I don’t think that MY choice is necessarily the right choice for YOU! But there are SO many great options to uplevel your dairy game if you are still buying conventional milk.

Every step towards a more informed dairy choice is a step towards better health and alignment. It’s all about embracing those steady, positive incremental changes.

Exploring Milk’s Many Forms

The path to raw milk has a lot of options. If you are still drinking conventional milk, there is probably a better option! You do not have to jump straight in to the raw milk train if you are feeling hesitant. Check out other options below and feel good that every step you make on your journey is an excellent step for your family’s health and the environment.

Dairy Milk Options

Conventional Milk

Derived from cows, this is the most common type of milk. It comes in various fat contents, including whole, two-percent, one-percent, and skim. This is regular old conventional cow’s milk (the cheaper options from the store that you probably grew up buying). This familiar friend comes in a range of fat percentages, catering to everyone’s taste preference.

conventional milks in grocery store aisle

Organic or Grass Fed Ultra-Pasteurized Milk

Conventional milk can also be organic or grass-fed? Produced from cows raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, organic milk often comes from grass-fed sources, potentially influencing its taste and nutritional profile. Think Horizon, Organic Valley, Maple Hill, etc… These are great in that they support better agricultural practices and better animal treatment. However, they are ultrapasteurized at high temperatures to increase shelf life. Unfortunately, that might make it harder for our tummy to process (more on that later).

Non-Homogenized Milk

The next best option in the store is non-homogenized milk. Have you ever noticed a “cream line” on some milk? This is a telltale sign of non-homogenized milk. Homogenization breaks down fat globules in milk, creating a uniform consistency. Non-homogenized milk allows the cream to rise to the top, requiring you to shake it before pouring for that classic farm-fresh experience. It is also pasteurized at a lower temperature, keeping in some of nature’s goodness.

local non-homogenized milk- hartzler dairy

Raw Milk

For those seeking an unadulterated experience, there’s raw milk. However, it’s crucial to remember that raw milk carries a higher risk of foodborne illness due to the absence of pasteurization, a process that destroys harmful bacteria (if you don’t know by now, I personally am willing to take the risk). You can read more about why they started pasteurizing in this article by the Science History Institute. What it boils down to in my opinion (hehe see what I did there?), is that people started dying from raw milk because they kept cows in really bad conditions in cities, so there were sick cows. Instead of fixing the sick cow problem, they killed the milk.

raw milk with cream line in half gallon mason jar

The Plant-Based Revolution: Lactose-Free Options

For those who are lactose intolerant or vegan, there are also options available. The plant-based milk revolution offers a variety of delicious and nutritious alternatives. I started our journey making Oat Milk for my son when we thought he might be lactose intolerant (he wasn’t by the way. He just can’t process conventional milk, like most of us). I do not recommend almond milk due to its harsh environmental impact and I would never recommend soy.

Jessica Gust, MS, RDN, has an excellent nutritional comparison of milk types if you are looking for lactose intolerance solutions.

Listen to My Path to Raw Milk:

Milk Comparison Chart

Here’s a comparison chart for the types of milk listen above:

Type of MilkNutritional ProfileShelf LifeEnvironmental Considerations
Raw MilkRich in natural enzymes, vitamins, and mineralsShort, must be consumed quickly or used to make other dairy productsLower carbon footprint due to responsible farming practices
Oat MilkTypically Fortified with vitamins and minerals, low in proteinLonger due to processing, varies by brandDepends on sourcing of oats, generally lower water usage than almond milk
Pea MilkHigh in protein and calcium, low in sugarsVaries by brand, generally long due to processingLow water usage, sustainable protein source as a dairy alternative
Conventional MilkVaries with fat content, generally fortified with vitamins A and DModerate, extended by pasteurizationHigher due to industrial farming practices
Organic Ultra-PasteurizedSimilar to conventional, often from grass-fed cowsExtended due to ultra-pasteurizationVaries, potentially lower due to organic farming practices
Non-Homogenized MilkContains natural fat globules, cream separates at the topShorter than homogenized, natural separation occursLower, often from smaller farms with sustainable practices

Choosing the Right Milk for You: Tailoring Milk to Your Needs

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to milk. Consider these factors when making your choice:

  • Dietary Needs: If you are lactose intolerant, choose plant-based milk. If you aren’t sure and it is not life-threatening, see if you can handle raw milk (I AM NOT A DOCTOR). Organic milk may be appealing to those who want to avoid antibiotics and growth hormones.

Raw Milk is the Clear Winner (in my humble opinion)

Raw milk is a symbol of balance and natural wellness, packed with more amino acids, antimicrobials, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids than its pasteurized counterpart. It’s especially beneficial for those dealing with lactose intolerance, asthma, and autoimmune conditions.

Raw Milk Benefits

  1. Nutrient-Rich: Raw milk is a source of essential nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, B2, B12), minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus), and proteins. It also contains zinc, selenium, and healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, which have various health-promoting properties.
  2. Digestive Health: Raw milk contains enzymes like lactase and lipase that aid in digestion. These enzymes help break down lactose and fats, making them easier to assimilate. The presence of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, in raw milk can also promote a healthier gut microbiome.
  3. Immune Support: The immunoglobulins and antibodies in raw milk may strengthen the immune system by helping the body identify and neutralize pathogens.
  4. Bone Health: Raw milk is a good source of bioavailable calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, crucial for bone health and potentially helpful in preventing osteoporosis.
  5. Dental Health: The calcium and phosphorus in raw milk contribute to strong teeth and may help prevent tooth decay.
  6. Skin Health: Vitamins and healthy fats in raw milk can promote healthier skin by contributing to tissue repair and maintaining skin elasticity.
  7. Weight Management and Satiety: The balanced fat content and high protein levels in raw milk can support healthy weight management and promote a feeling of fullness.
  8. Mental Clarity and Eyesight: Omega-3 fatty acids in raw milk are essential for brain function and eye health.
  9. Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Raw milk contains compounds that may help reduce inflammation, beneficial for conditions like arthritis.

Sources: Dr. Axe and Realmilk.com

Where to Buy Raw Milk Near You

In the United States, the legality of selling and distributing raw milk varies significantly from state to state, and the regulations are quite complex. Here’s a general overview of some common raw milk laws:

  1. Direct Farm Sales: In some states, raw milk can be sold directly to consumers at the farm. This is often seen as a way to support local agriculture and provide consumers with fresh, unprocessed milk.
  2. Retail Sales: A few states allow the sale of raw milk in retail stores. These states have specific labeling and handling requirements to ensure consumer safety.
  3. Herdshare Agreements: In states where the sale of raw milk is restricted, herdshare (or cowshare) agreements are a common workaround. In a herdshare, consumers pay a farmer a fee for a share of a cow or herd and, in return, receive a portion of the milk produced. This is not considered a sale of milk but rather a share of the product from owned livestock.
  4. ‘Pet Milk’ Labeling: In some states where the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal, it’s sold as ‘pet milk’ or for animal consumption only. This is a legal loophole where raw milk is labeled and marketed not for human consumption, though it is understood that consumers might be purchasing it for their own use.
  5. On-Farm Consumption: In some areas, raw milk can’t be sold, but it can be consumed on the farm where it’s produced. This means people can drink raw milk if they’re physically at the farm, but they can’t take it away with them.
  6. Ban on Sales: There are also states where the sale of raw milk is completely banned, with no exceptions. In these states, consuming raw milk is only legal if you own the cow (or other milk-producing animal) and consume its milk privately.
brittany grabbing dairy from local milk farm

State-by-State Variation: The laws can vary dramatically, so it’s important for consumers and farmers to be familiar with the specific regulations in their state. These regulations are often a balance between public health concerns and consumer rights to access unprocessed foods.

Tips for Your Path to Raw Milk

  • Visit a Local Farmer’s Market – Talk to the farmers, and learn about their practices. It’s a great way to understand where your milk comes from and build a relationship with your food source. This is also the easiest way to learn about how to source raw milk in your area.
  • Start with Small Quantities – If you’re new to raw milk, begin with small quantities to see how your body reacts. This will also give you an opportunity to get used to the taste and richness of raw milk.
  • Try Making Dairy Products – Raw milk is excellent for making homemade dairy products like butter, yogurt, and cheese. These can be fun and rewarding projects, and they’re great ways to enjoy the full spectrum of raw milk’s benefits.

Sourcing Local Dairy

If you want to find raw milk in your area, check out realmilk.com. I was able to find my local herdshare here and it is an excellent source to connect farmers and consumers.

Want to know more about sourcing local? Check out the video below from when I was still in my beginner stages on the milk path, purchasing non-homogenized milk for the first time!

FAQs about Milk

Is plant-based milk healthy?

Plant-based milk can be a healthy alternative to cow’s milk, especially for those with specific dietary needs. Be sure to choose a variety fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Can I make my own milk?

Yes, you can make your own plant-based milk at home using nuts, seeds, or grains.

Is raw milk safe?

Raw milk can be controversial in terms of safety. It’s milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. This lack of pasteurization means raw milk can contain microorganisms like E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, which can lead to foodborne illnesses. However, proponents of raw milk argue that when it is produced and handled properly, the risks are minimal and it can be a safe part of a diet. The safety of raw milk largely depends on the conditions under which the dairy animals are raised and how the milk is collected and stored. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against consuming raw milk due to the associated health risks.

Is raw milk illegal?

The legality of raw milk varies significantly by region. In the United States, the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in some states, while others permit it under certain conditions such as direct purchase from the farm, cow-share agreements, or for pet consumption. The regulations are quite specific to each state. Federally, the FDA prohibits the interstate sale of raw milk for human consumption, but enforcement typically falls to state and local authorities. It’s important to check the specific laws in your area if you’re considering purchasing or consuming raw milk.

What is raw milk?

Raw milk is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Pasteurization is a process that heats milk to a specific temperature for a set period to destroy bacteria. This process also extends the milk’s shelf life. Raw milk enthusiasts often prefer it for its natural state, believing it retains more nutrients, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that are reduced or eliminated during pasteurization. They also argue for the superior taste and potential health benefits.

Don’t forget to pin this for later!

So, the next time you find yourself staring down a crowded dairy aisle, remember this guide! With a little knowledge and exploration, you’re sure to find the perfect milk to elevate your culinary creations and keep those taste buds happy.

About the Author:

I’m Brittany, totally modern and mainstream turned crunchy mama!

Read more here about how I went from a totally incompetent cook and hyper-consumer to striving to live a more meaningful life from scratch.

I can’t wait to share my modern homesteading journey with you and I hope I inspire you to join along!

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  1. Oh! I can’t wait until we have our own raw milk! Currently, raising Nigerian Dwarf goats. Waiting for them to be bred and kid! Great information, very interesting. Where I live in Canada, there is no option for non-homogenized milk, and farmers can’t sell raw milk. You might be able to find ‘pet food’ milk tho… Interesting how every place is different. Hopefully it will become more readily available as people are educated about small farms and safe handling.

    1. I totally agree! It can be so confusing and laws change all the time! I JUST found pet milk in Ohio for the first time yesterday, and I didn’t even know that was legal here! You may have the best luck researching herdshare in your area.

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