The world runs on milk. In the UK alone, we produced 15 million litres of the stuff in 2020/21 alone. We use it for tea, coffee, cereal, baking and many other things. That’s before we even mention the by-products of milk, such as butter, cream and cheese. But before milk arrives in your fridge for you to use, it has already gone on a long trip to get there.
So read on for the process of milk and how it gets from the field to your door.
Before we get started on how milk arrives in your house, let’s look at the benefits of milk and why we have been drinking it for so long. Milk is packed full of nutrients, with one cup being 28% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium and also a great source of Vitamin D and minerals.
It’s also a great source of protein which is necessary for the growth and development of your body, with milk drinkers commonly having greater muscle mass and physical performance. It’s a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids needed for your body to function at an optimal level. Its combination of nutrients, protein and vitamin K2 has linked it to maintaining bone and tooth health. It helps prevent bone disease and
We also use it because of its versatility. By adding milk to other ingredients you can do virtually anything. Smoothies, oatmeal, ice cream, coffee, tea, soups, cakes and chocolate are all everyday things that benefit or rely on the addition of milk.
By definition, milk is a nutrient-rich fluid that female mammals produce to feed their young. The most common animal milk that people consume is cows, but other popular types include sheep and goats. While not as often, some countries and cultures also drink milk from water buffalos, reindeers, camels, donkeys and horses.
Although milk has many benefits, some people can’t digest it or choose not to consume it. Milk has a sugar in it called lactose, which some people cannot digest. Other people do not consume dairy products due to ethical reasons or dietary restrictions. That’s why non-dairy milk alternatives have risen in popularity in recent years, meaning you can choose an alternative that suits you. You have to be careful when drinking milk substitutes though, as they often have additional ingredients like artificial flavours, preservatives and sweeteners added. Some milk alternatives include:
- Almond – low in calories and fat compared to cow’s milk.
- Coconut – a creamy textured drink made from coconut flesh and water.
- Cashew – Combining cashews and water makes a sweet milk alternative.
- Soy – maintains a similar amount of protein to cow’s milk.
- Hemp – made from hemp seeds and a good source of protein.
- Oat – A great coffee addition due to its thick consistency.
Milk alternatives are each made from different methods, but most are made of a combination of water and other ingredients. Most of these can actually be made at home using simple methods, often just requiring a blender and a strainer to accomplish.
Milk is harvested in a mix of ways depending on the animal or alternative. For the sake of this post, we’ll be looking at the journey of cow’s milk.
Firstly the milk is harvested from cows. Cows are usually milked 2-3 times a day. While this used to be done manually, technology has now been developed that helps to speed up the process. Manual milking is done by squeezing the cows’ udder by hand, which takes hours for just a few cows. Before milking the cow’s udders are cleaned with iodine and then cleaned once more after the milking is done.
Modern milking is done on a dairy farm, using vacuum cups that are attached to the cow’s teat. This allows hundreds of cows to be milked simultaneously and much quicker than by hand. Some dairy farms use a rotary milker, where cows ride a carousel-like device, as workers stay in the centre to attach pumps and clean their udders. Another method is using robots, that automatically hook up to a cow’s udders to milk it.
The milk is then sent through pipes to large refrigerated vats, where it is stored at 5 degrees or less.
It doesn’t stay here long, as it must be pasteurised and homogenised within 48 hours. The milk is taken from the farm to a milk factory to do so. Some dairy farms have these factories on-site while others send their milk off. Pasteurisation involves heating milk up to 72 degrees for no less than 15 seconds, then immediately cooled. This helps to destroy any harmful bacteria, microorganisms and extend the shelf life. You can also get unpasteurised milk however, milk that has not been pasteurised can be dangerous, as the harmful bacteria that are killed off in this process are still present in the milk.
Homogenisation involves putting milk under pressure, evenly dispersing fat globules and preventing the cream from separating. This gives it a more consistent taste and texture. Milk composition is standardised so elements like consistency can be adjusted for year-round consistency. Some manufacturers produce unhomogenised milk as people prefer the cream to separate and rise to the top of the bottle. Apart from the texture, homogenisation is a purely aesthetic process, so is not necessary for milk.
The next step is centrifugal separation, which is used to make different types of milk. Centrifugal force removes some or all of the cream which can make low-fat or skim milk. Skim milk solids can be added back to the milk to improve the texture and taste.
Ultrafiltration is then used to adjust the fat content. The milk moves through a membrane under moderate pressure, which holds back fat globules, protein and calcium complexes. Water and lactose pass through, which leaves behind a calcium and protein-rich product. Reverse osmosis is similar to ultrafiltration but instead holds back most of the milk solids and lets water pass through, keeping lactose in the product. Ultra osmosis is a combination of the two, holding back milk solids and allowing both water and salt to pass through.
UHT milk is a specific type of milk processing where all bacteria are destroyed using high heat, giving it a shelf life of up to 6 months, as long as the package is not opened. The milk is heated to 138 degrees celsius for 1-3 seconds, then immediately cooled and put into a sterile container. As this is so much hotter than standard pasteurisation, it kills all of the bacteria instead of most of it allowing it to have a very much extended shelf life and no longer require refrigeration.
If you’re looking for high-quality milk and other dairy products, work with Freshways. We are a family-run, independent dairy supplier that supplies to London and across the UK. Over the past 30 years, we have become one of the largest suppliers of milk in the United Kingdom, due to our products being of the highest quality and available at competitive prices.
We started out small, processing milk and cheese products from our facility in Acton. In 2001 we decided to expand, moving to our current premises and installing a state of the art processing facility capable of producing up to 60,000 litres per hour. We’ve expanded multiple times since then with the most recent addition being a new pasteuriser in 2017, bringing our capacity to over 3 million litres per week.
So if you’re looking for milk, cream and other products supplied directly to your business, get in touch with Freshways on 0203 696 7960. Freshways doesn’t just stock dairy products, but a range of everyday brands of bread, juice, yoghurt, eggs and more. We supply cafes, hotels, retailers, bakeries, wholesalers and manufacturers with our wide range of products, so visit our website now to view our full range of products.