Milk by Mark Kurlansky

I really wanted to like this book. It was supposed to be the great followup to Steak, and I had high hopes since this author has a bunch of other books on single food topics like Cod and Salt. But it was very disappointing. There were way too many random page-long recipes, and the chapters had no structure at all. It was basically a bunch of random milk-related facts one after another, and the thing that I’ll remember the most is the Youtube video I watched about how to make butter.

1) Lactose intolerance is natural for mammals. Humans are the only mammals who drink milk as adults. The ability to produce milk is also one of the defining traits of mammals.

Two weeks ago, I tried drinking whole milk by itself for the first time in years. It was disgusting. Still better than skim or 2% milk though.

2) The word “galaxy” comes from the Greek word for milk, “gala.”

Now Milky Way makes sense.

3) Human milk has more lactose than most other milk, making it sweeter.

Based on chemical composition, donkey milk is the closest to human milk. Also, milk and honey are both considered rare sweets.

4) Rennet is used to turn milk into curds. The leftover liquid is whey.

Rennet interacts with the negatively-charged casein proteins in milk so the proteins can start bonding.

5) Ricotta is a whey cheese, meaning it’s made from whey leftover from making other cheese.

One key takeaway is that people have tried anything and everything with milk. It’s hard to keep track of how things are made, and mislabeling contributes to the problem. For example, skyr is actually a cheese not a yogurt, and commercial buttermilk is a completely different product from the classic definition of buttermilk.

6) Cheddar is originally from the town of Cheddar in Somerset. 

Cheddaring is now also the process in which curds are stacked and restacked, resulting in a smooth cheese.

7) In London, penny licks were ice cream served in a small glass.

It was banned because they weren’t properly cleaned.

8) Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry’s, couldn’t really taste, which is why their ice cream often has a lot of texture.

This is founder-centric product development.

9) There was a debate over raw certified milk vs pasteurized milk.

In the end, pasteurized milk won because it was cheaper to produce. This reminded me of the egg refrigeration question, where American eggs are washed and thus need to be kept in the fridge afterwards.

10) 90% of dairy cows in America are the Holstein breed.

These are the quintessential black and white cows that I’ve never seen in real life.

There were a lot of cool random tidbits in this book. I just wish the story was told in a more coherent way.



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