I reach into the dairy case at Safeway and grab my one-half gallon of Vitamin D whole milk. A five-year-old little boy with big brown eyes and curly black hair sits in the grocery cart. His dad reaches in and pulls out a half-gallon of 2% milk. “Where does milk come from?” asks the little boy. His father answers, “From cows.”
I don’t know if this little boy has ever come into contact with cows. I never did until I was about eight years old. My cousins lived on a farm in Nebraska, and we went to visit them every year in the summer. My cousin, Joe, decided that this city chick needed to know how to milk a cow. He took me out to the barn and led me to the cows. His daily chore was to milk a dozen cows before he went to school or played with his friends. The barn smelled like cow poop, and I held my nose as we walked in. The cows were mooing and munching on their cud, and I thought they were filthy. They needed baths. I felt there was no way I was going to touch their tits.
Joe reached up to the second shelf in the barn and brought down a tin bucket and led me to the first cow we were going to milk. He showed me how to gently pinch the tit of the cow to get the milk to come out. He held the nipple in his hand and squeezed. Milk came out and streamed into the pail. Now, it was my turn. I pressed the tit, and nothing came out. He laughed. “Not so hard, he said.” I squeezed with less gusto, and still, nothing came out. I was getting frustrated. Why doesn’t the milk squirt out as it did for my cousin? Joe finally gave up and told me I would never be able to exist on a farm. That was ok with me. I didn’t plan on living on a farm. After all, I was a city chick.
When I was five, more than sixty years ago, the milk arrived on the front doorstep in glass bottles. My mother would put the empty bottles out, and the milkman would come around and put six fresh ones. He would do this once a week. There was only one choice of milk. The dairy section today includes whole milk, whole milk with vitamin D, skim milk, 2% reduced-fat milk, and 1% low-fat milk.
Milk is a drink that has been around for thousands of years. Humans and animals nurse their babies from birth to about three years. Humans began to drink the milk of other mammals when they became domesticated during the Neolithic Revolution and the development of agriculture from 9000–7000BC in Mesopotamia and 3500–3000 BC in the Americas.
Humans use milk not only for drinking but for making ice cream, shakes, poured on their cereal, yogurt, and smoothies. Milk is more prevalent in some cultures than others. Japanese are not milk drinkers. Many of them are lactose intolerant or don’t like the taste. My Japanese husband didn’t like milk. Our daughter is not a great fan of milk and says that it doesn’t sit well with her. Many others are lactose intolerant, and now we have options such as almond milk, oatmeal milk, coconut milk, and rice milk. It was hard enough getting milk to come from a tit I can’t imagine how to get milk from an almond. How do you milk oatmeal?
I am a fan of thick milk. I remember the milk that came out of the cow in Nebraska. My cousins would pour it on their cereal without sterilizing it. The taste was warm, and my tongue couldn’t bring the sweet taste to my brain the way I had imagined.
I went to Switzerland in search of real milk. I hiked five miles with my writing group when we came to a small farm in the Swiss Alps of Murren. The portly mother cows were lying on the thick green grass with their calves surrounded by wildflowers, their natural food.
We approached the tin roof farmhouse. The owners came out and greeted us. They operated a small restaurant that served fondue. We could get a sample of fresh milk for $4 a cup. I paid and picked up my dixie cup size of milk and brought it to my lips. I hoped it would taste better than the milk in Nebraska. The creamy white liquid was smooth and sweet. It was so different than anything I had eaten in the states.
My quest for where milk came from ended in Switzerland.