Lots of us can take everyday food items for granted, including milk, tea and bread. This holy trinity takes us from breakfast right through to that final cup of tea at the end of an evening. Last night, TOAST magazine started a debate about the value we currently place on these essentials. First in the dock was milk.

Ah milk, that dreamy, creamy liquid we pour onto cereal and into endless cups of tea without even thinking. It’s also the source of a couple of my favourite foods, yoghurt and cheese. As last night’s session pointed out, it’s more than just personal at-home consumption that’s important. There are many industries reliant on milk, including the numerous coffee shops covering the UK.

Milk can be a controversial topic, with ongoing reports of the crisis for dairy farmers, and milk prices plummeting. As a fan of The Archers (which I know is a little unusual for someone of my age and nationality), I’ve been avidly following the dramas and challenges of dairy farmers over the last few years. If I’m drinking cow’s milk, I personally favour the full fat, organic, unhomogenised stuff. This is because of the taste and because I prefer food that hasn’t been messed around with too much.

There’s lots of terminology that applies to milk and dairy, beyond just skimmed, semi-skimmed and full fat. How about raw, pasteurised, homogenised, intensive farming, pasture fed to name just a few? Oh, and there’s also organic to consider. It can be a bit of a minefield – and that’s before you start considering any potential health benefits or issues with lactose intolerance.

Toast Milk Debate

The Milk panel presented a range of views from:
– Steven Hook, Hook & Son,  one of the few UK raw milk producers,
– Charlie Taverner, Farmers Weekly (and son of a dairy farmer),
– Lee-Anna Rennie, ‘The Dairy Maid’; and
– Dil Peeling, Compassion in World Farming.
All grew up with the taste of raw milk (i.e. unpasteurised and unhomogenised), and discussed the difficulty of average supermarket milk being able to match this. It was also very clear that the commoditisation of milk could kill the market. I think the challenge is encouraging the average UK consumer to really care when weekly shopping bills are important to so many families. Is this maybe the next challenge for the likes of Hugh or Jamie to tackle? One approach discussed, which is already happening in other countries including Italy, is supplying raw milk in vending machines direct from local farmers.  I’d love to see if the British public is ready for this!

There was also an opportunity to taste. Steve Hook brought along some raw milk, which I’ve wanted to try for a while. It had a lovely creaminess and sweetness. I’m going to order some myself for home and see if I experience any benefits of a switch (you can buy it online if you aren’t near Borough Market, where Hook & Son sell their milk). There was also luxurious goat’s milk icecream from Greedy Goat (I went a little off-piste with a combo of chocolate and peanut butter), plus Kappacasein Dairy cheese.  This was all topped off by a (non-dairy) tipple from Kamm & Sons.

As Steve Hook said, “People don’t respect milk as much as they did 30 years ago”. After what I tasted last night, I really hope this respect can be rebuilt.

There are 2 more events in the debate series, with the last remaining tickets available here: Milk Tea Bread tickets.