The Good Stuff
It’s expensive and barely legal, but raw milk is a hit in Portland.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD CHILDREN chasing fall’s first lonely leaves down the street barely notice my Honda rolling up in front of the Northeast Portland bungalow. I’m grateful for the anonymity. I cut the engine and stare at the house’s white picket fence, heart thumping. Looking in the rearview mirror to make sure no one’s followed me, I catch sight of my eyes: wild and hungry.
No, I’m not looking to score drugs. I’m just after milk—pure, creamy, raw milk.
Even though it’s perfectly legal to buy raw milk, it’s illegal to sell raw cow’s milk in Oregon—unless your farm has two or fewer milking cows, and then only if you make sales on the property where the milk was produced. It’s illegal to advertise, too. And Oregon is one of the more lenient places: At least a dozen states have banned the consumption of raw cow’s milk outright. The FDA warns that it’s a potential playground for harmful bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.
Still, a growing number of Portlanders seem willing to take the risk. They’ll drive to covert locations miles away and pay up to $10 a gallon to get their dose. “I mentioned that I was selling raw milk at my son’s school last week, and I’m already sold out for the rest of the month,” says Elizabeth Morgan, a farmer in Cornelius (full disclosure: Morgan is an acquaintance of mine).
The increased interest could be because of raw milk’s potential health benefits. While the FDA has found no nutritional difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized milk, some research suggests raw milk has more vitamins, omega-3s, and antioxidants.
So raw milk might do a body good, but does it taste good? Back in Northeast Portland, I’m about to find out. After Ed Arcement of Abita Springs goat farm introduces me to his four goats, he gives me a glass of their milk.
I sniff it. Nothing. No goaty odor. I close my eyes and take a sip. After an initial tangy bite, the flavor mellows into something sweet, faintly reminiscent of a chèvre. I like it. I’d even put it in my morning cup of Stumptown.
An hour later, as I’m on my way home, a police car pulls up behind me. My hand shakes a little as I shift gears. Fortunately, when I turn right, the cop turns left. I relax—but I slip my coat over the little jar of goat goodness resting next to me on the seat, just for good measure.