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Nuts & Bolts

August 2, 2012

Slate: Why do we drink only cows' milk?

(Continued)

One Wisconsin dairyman (a former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli military) who had acquired a herd of dairy buffalo told a newspaper that milking them was more difficult than leading troops into war.

Camel's milk, which is sometimes the only source of water in the arid climates of the Middle East and parts of Africa, isn't much easier to obtain. Gil Riegler, who runs the Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona, Calif., says a typical camel produces around two gallons of milk a day in two 90-second long bursts and only while a calf is in the act of nursing (from a different teat). And once you've got the milk, you can't do much with it other than drink it. The low-solid content of camel's milk means it cannot be processed into butter or cheese without high-tech intervention.

Nonetheless, Riegler (who has yet to secure to necessary Agriculture Department permits to sell his milk) is a great believer in the product: "Where camel milk is available," he asserts, "people will prefer to drink it." He says camel's milk contains insulin and can improve quality of life for diabetics (seems legit) and cites stories about it treating autism (does not). To aid in water retention, camels consume about eight times as much sodium as cows, so their milk can be weirdly salty, but it can also be sweet. On Bizarre Foods America, Andrew Zimmern sipped some of Riegler's milk and pronounced it "fantastic." But the fact that camel's milk was on a show called Bizarre Foods makes a prima facie case that the American palate may not be quite ready for it.

And pig's milk, alas, is also not quite ready for the American palate. With a little effort, I tracked down the chef I heard about at Whole Foods, the one who's trying to make pig's cheese. It's Edward Lee of Louisville's 610 Magnolia and Top Chef. "Anyone who farms pigs would say that pigs' milk would make an incredible cheese," he says. "The problem is that it's nearly impossible to milk pigs. When sows are lactating, they get very aggressive. They're not docile like cows. They're smart, skittish, suspicious and paranoid. They do not like you to get up in their business."

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