Text and images by Catherine Ling @ Makansutra
Oh, those glib images of happy cows in pastoral meadows. They make us think that the milk we buy is nothing but pure, fresh, unadulterated goodness. There’s a load of bull there.
Watch your labels carefully as terms like “reconstituted milk” may mean it’s a product made from adding hot water to powdered milk. Some dairies use frozen milk concentrate to reconstitute or recombine into milk products. But even the term “fresh milk” may be misleading. It may not be 100% fresh milk as some dairies add “stuff” to cut costs, enhance taste or change the protein content. An Australian dairy scandal in mid-2012 revealed that permeate or whey (a watery waste by-product from cheese) forms up to 16% of certain milk brands. Additives like vanilla flavouring are for taste adjustment, but other “stuff” are less innocent, like melamine.
Yes, so most of us won’t touch milk from China. But most “fresh” milk from countries far away like Australia and New Zealand suffer such long shipping periods that they require a second pasteurisation upon reaching the destination, to kill the bacteria that has built up along the ride here. Significant nutrients are lost, and the product is a far cry from what’s really siphoned from the cow.
Closer dairies in Southeast Asia (and there are very few, as the climate isn’t suitable for dairy cows) usually have to import or source milk from other farms as production is often inadequate.
Bacteria contamination unavoidably happens the minute milk is expressed and increases with any additional exposure or change, like when you transport raw milk in tankers from farms to processing plants.
The best way to minimise bacteria contamination is to have an integrated dairy, where the whole process – herd management, milking of cows, processing and packing of milk – is all kept in one single location. The Greenfields Dairy in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, is the largest of such plants in Southeast Asia. Friesian Holstein cows were brought in from Australia to be bred and milked at the farm’s cooler high altitude location.
This Australian-Indonesian joint venture ships milk from Surabaya to Singapore in just two to three days, as compared to seven days for milk from Down Under. The milk has no additives and does not need any further pasteurisation.
“We are the Asian dairy next door,” said Jan Gert Vistisen, Head, Marketing and Sales, for Greenfields. “All we focus on is giving consumers fresh milk and cheese, made right here in Asia that is of the same or better quality than what consumers traditionally assume comes from the traditional dairy ‘powerhouses’ such as Australia and New Zealand. It is for this reason that the company is a trusted go-to dairy of some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Starbucks and JW Marriott.”
Jan says that unfortunately in Asia there is no standard government regulation on what qualifies as “fresh milk”. Hong Kong for instance, only allows single-pasteurised milk to be labeled “fresh”.
In comparison, the AVA in Singapore lets the term “fresh” be used for double pasteurised and ultra-heat treated (UHT) full cream milk (for hygiene reasons). However, low fat, skim or flavoured milk do not qualify, even though the product may be fresh milk that has only gone through separation to achieve the desired fat content. Luckily, reconstituted milk is not allowed to be labelled as “fresh” but clever marketing may still lead consumers to think they are drinking wholesome fresh milk.
So the next time you look at milk in the supermarkets, ignore the happy marketing hype and take a closer look at the ingredients and terms used. Fresh milk should just be what it is – pure, fresh milk.