I arrive at the park late morning. They know why I’m there before I say a word. I stand to the side and slip them cash. They hand it to me in a non-descript plastic bag.
No, this isn’t a drug deal. So goes my now habitual, illicit purchase of raw milk.
In New York State, raw milk sales are illegal except on the premises of 19 state-approved farms. The FDA says that unpasteurized and non-homogenized, raw milk could harbor dangerous pathogens, but raw milk advocates argue that pasteurization kills beneficial, necessary bacteria and encourages dairy farmers to practice unsanitary production methods. They also argue that raw milk production supports grass-fed cattle and non-industrial, local farms.
It’s an interesting debate, but it’s raw milk’s off-limits status that makes it tempting. When something is forbidden, you want it even more (I know, my version of being a badass is procuring illegal dairy). But short of hitchhiking to a farm upstate, I had all but given up on finding the “good stuff” in New York City – until one fateful farmers’ market visit last month.
It started out innocently enough. I noticed a stand selling raw-milk’s cheese (which is legal) and without an agenda in mind, struck up a conversation with the vendor:
“Do you sell raw milk on your farm?” I asked.
“If you’re interested in raw milk, you should talk to this guy,” she replied, pointing to the farmer beside her. He motioned for me to follow him behind the stand, where I eagerly described my desire to taste raw milk. He stared back solemnly.
“If I gave it to you,” he began cryptically, “it would come in a Mason jar. I have to charge double what I would if you were at the farm. I got to make it worth my while if I get fined. Are you going home now?”
“In a couple hours,” I replied. “So I can reserve it and,” he gave me a stern look and I changed tracks, “If you had it, I would pay you now and pick it up before you leave?”
Before I knew it I’d been sucked into a black market transaction. I was full of questions. Did he really have it? Would he be there later? Would the milk taste drastically different? Would I get sick from it?
When I returned, the sun had set. They were waiting for me. The Mason jar was in a bag. On the way home, I pressed my hands around the jar in the bag as I held it close. It was cold and heavy. At home, I poured the first glass. It was…milkier. Rich, creamy, and more flavorful than any milk I’d ever tasted, it made other milks seem like tap water.
Forget unwinding after a long day with a glass of wine; I’ll be drinking a glass of raw milk.