"It's real milk, from a cow."
Jacob looks at me in disbelief and I realize that sounds crazy. "I mean straight from the cow, instead of the grocery store," I say. It tastes different. Better. Thus becomes my love affair with raw milk and Healthyway Dairy farm in Santa Fe, Texas.
Why a Dairy Farm?
It started when my friend, Jerry, with whom we play Ingress, sent me on a mission. He told me to go "get keys" at a dairy farm. Ingress is a geo-caching game -- no it's not Pokemon -- that features cultural and community gathering spots, in an effort to get people off their butts and out into the world. Players use their phones to capture "portals" and create invisible triangles (fields) throughout the world. The world is divided into two teams (factions): The Enlightened and The Resistance. We play for The Resistance, who, according to the back story, are attempting to keep the world from being taken over by "Shaper" ingression. The Enlightened, also in the back story, work with an alien race, naively thinking that their misguided, but well-meaning efforts will "uplift humanity" and bring about the next chapter in human evolution. We do not really pay attention to the back story -- after all, we have real lives to lead. For me, it's about the social aspect. We have made a number of good friends through the game over the past couple years, and I even found a self-professed pirate (and purveyor of excellent corn liquor) who is related to me by comparing notes on our relatives in Mobile, Alabama. Just so you know it's not just a few geeks playing: The game, according to Google Play, has been downloaded over 10 million times.
So, minion that I am, off I go to see about this raw milk and get "keys." The problem with getting keys here is that my Sprint signal is almost non-existent at the dairy farm. But what I did find was lots of milk, straight from the cows, and fresh brown eggs from Kenz Henz. Everything tastes fresher, longer. And, we can make raw milk cheese we use in a number of dishes by adding in various herbs. We save the whey from the cheese-making process and use it in cooking as well.
Healthyway Dairy sells milk and kefir from a variety of dairy cattle breeds including Jersey, Guernsey and Holstein, and one Brown Swiss, in a little red house on the property. Bottle lids identify the name of the cow producing. A convenient list inside the store provides the breed of the cow, as well as the A2A1 or A2A2 designation. Now what does this mean?
What is A2 milk?
The A designation refers to a bovine gene for beta casein protein. A2 milk is produced only from cows having two copies of the A2 gene, and is thought to be a healthier alternative, especially for people who consider themselves to be lactose intolerant. Prior to the Spring of 2015 when it started popping up in California, nearly all processed milk in the United States contained a combination of the A1 and A2 genes, while A2 milk was common in Australia and New Zealand. Milk is about 87 percent water and 13 percent solids - a combination of lactose, fat and protein. Beta casein makes up about 30 of the protein in milk. Researchers believe that A2 is the natural variant of beta casein and that A1 is a natural genetic mutation brought about when cows were first domesticated. Studies of the two genes looked to see if people digest or react to A2 milk differently than regular US milk. Some of these studies have found that people who drank milk exclusively from cows that produce A1 milk were more susceptible to bloating and indigestion. A2 milk is not lactose free, and in fact contains the same amount of lactose as A1 cows. But most cases of "lactose intolerance" (just like gluten intolerance) are self-diagnosed, and some doctors theorize that the "intolerance" or indigestion and bloating is an aversion to the A1 gene. So, drinking A2 milk might be a better option for those folks who think themselves lactose intolerant.
When I first started buying milk from Healthyway, I knew nothing of the difference in the cow's genes, but was comparing milks to compare their taste. We seem to think the Guernsey milk tastes better.
In the beginning, the milk appeared to give me digestive issues -- but I thought it was just that I was not accustomed to drinking raw milk. The more I drank it, I thought, the issues went away. And I assumed it was because I had become "used to it." They cropped up again with the latest bottle. After reading about the A2 difference, I went back to look at the list. Sure enough the milk from A2A2 cows did not give me bloating and indigestion, and the A2A1 did. Other customers reported similar results via comments on Healthyway Dairy's Facebook page. I'm not sure if the process of cheese making has any affect on the proteins. But the cheese did not give me indigestion. Coincidentally, all the cheese we made came from A2A2 milk. Currently about 75 percent of Healthyway's cows are A2A2, and they plan to eventually be a 100% A2A2 Dairy Farm. The cows can produce around 70 to 80 gallons a day.
How Does it Work?
Established in 2008 after proprietors Bill and Irene Nelson retired, Healthyway Dairy sells milk right on the property, in a little red house retail shop. Half-gallon bottles are $5 each, with $2 deposit for each bottle the first purchase. Gallon jugs sell for $10.00 and Kefir sells for $5.00 per quart jar, with a $1 deposit. Sometimes they have chocolate milk available, but they have been sold out all the times I have visited. Kenz Hens eggs are $6.00 per dozen. There is an on-premise ice machine, so I take a cooler and fill it with ice for the ride home in the Houston heat, as I live about 35-45 minutes away depending on traffic. The little house is usually unattended, save a security camera, and purchases are on the honor system via cash and check only. They also sell grass-fed beef in one pound packages ($10.00) and frozen chickens (about $25 each) That may sound pricey when compared with the grocery store. But having watched documentaries on the lax regulation and "factory" conditions of the large corporate farms, I would rather pay a little more and know where my food is coming from, and how the animals are treated. You can see the cattle from the parking area, and recently born calves are in the barn.
Milk is labeled with the name of the cow and the milking date. Selection is first come first serve. There is no "expiration date." So how long does it last?
"I always say 2 to 3 weeks," says Irene, "But some of my customers say a month or more."
Healthyway Dairy is open from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. daily. They are located at 15525 Cedar Street in Santa Fe, Texas. For more information call (409) 739-2389 email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or for nearly real-time information about available milk visit their Facebook page at @healthyway.dairy
*To learn more about A2 milk, and research into A2A1 vs A2A3, please see the following resources:
Effects of milk containing only A2 beta casein versus milk containing both A1 and A2 beta casein proteins on gastrointestinal physiology, symptoms of discomfort, and cognitive behavior of people with self-reported intolerance to traditional cows’ milk