Specialty coffee makers are starting to realise that the amount of work and effort that goes into their coffee offerings should be applied across their entire business, and with milky ‘cinos currently making up the majority of espresso based beverages in Australia, that means a necessary focus on the dairy side of the equation.
As a working barista who’s made countless lattes over the years, I realised that I had little to no idea of how much work goes into the liquid that makes up 70% of all those milky espresso drinks. With this, I resolved to find out more about milk and set out on a three hour road-trip out of Melbourne to the little town of Timboon, home to one of the most well respected dairies in Victoria – Schulz Organic Dairy.
Owned by Simon Schulz, Schulz Organic Dairy began retail operations in mid-2006, sourcing milk from a farm that was originally established by Mr. Schulz's grandparents Hermann & Marlis back in 1972. Since then, Mr. Schulz has added his father Michael Schulz’s property to the farm, bringing the farm to 500 milking cows on 872 acres, run using fully organic methods.
Specialty coffee and high quality milk are much the same: the quality of the raw product is paramount.
The best coffee producers and roasters in the coffee world are those who focus on the unique qualities of a specific coffee. For coffee producers, this means good farm management, careful separation of individual lots of coffee, and fastidious processing of the coffee from cherry to dry green bean. Roasters build on that work by buying the best coffees at appropriate prices, and roasting them to a degree that highlights their unique flavors.
Milk is no different – many of the best producers focus the bulk of their time on looking after the cows and the pastures while making sure they do only the minimum necessary processing after milking to get it to a finished product. With producers working like this, the milk is more of a seasonal product (as, in my opinion, it should be), tasting quite different from summer through to spring, just as quality coffee will taste different from crop to crop.
At Schulz, for example, there are only four steps after the cows have been milked: Filtration, Separation (for creating low fat milk), Pasteurisation (using the gentler Vat-style pasteurization that holds the milk at 60 degrees C over 30 minutes), and Bottling. With the stringent—and, some might say, sometimes unnecessarily cautious—food and safety laws in Australia, these steps are required to be able to retail milk for human consumption.
The Australian government is quite militant about dairy products, generally outlawing raw milk and raw milk products (milk that hasn’t been pasteurised). There are key players within the cheese industry who have been pushing against these laws for some times, such as Nick Haddow of Bruny Island Cheese (who is currently the only cheesemonger legally allowed to produce raw milk cheese in Australia), and Will Studd.
Mr. Studd is a renowned cheese specialist, host of the show Cheese Slices, and recipient of the ‘Officier of the Ordre National du Mérite Agricole’ award by the French Ministry of Agriculture in 2009. In 2002 he imported 80kg of Roquefort to Australia to appeal the pasteurization ban by the Food Standards Australia authority. He was subsequently forced to bury it in a public tip, however, his lost battle eventually won the war and Roquefort was subsequently allowed to be imported into Australia for public consumption. Mr. Schulz is a big supporter of the raw milk movement, hoping to see more allowances of raw milk production and consumption in Australia in the future.
Larger more commercially driven milk producers tend to spend less money on the raw product development, and more time on processing the product to create a ‘consistent’ flavour and increase the quantities to be sold, much like commodity coffee companies that create over-roasted, generic-tasting blends of low quality beans. This mentality has led to many supermarket price wars in dairy, including the (in)famous $1 per litre of milk sales pitch by two major Australian supermarkets, Coles & Woolworths, and the subsequent backlash from Australian dairy farmers deeming it an unsustainable move.
At Schulz Organic Dairy, the milk is un-homogenised, meaning that the solids (cream) and liquid (milk) aren’t combined as they are in most other milks. Mr. Schulz believes that homogenisation is a largely unnecessary process, one that does more harm than good to the end product and how people consume it, stating that “un-homogenised milk is natural, easier to digest and tastier than its alternative”.
When it comes down to it, the potential for quality in anything lies inherently in the raw product. For milk, this means focusing on the first step of the process, which is simply making sure that the cows are happy, healthy, and looked after. In this, Mr. Schulz is doing a great job with their beautiful pastures, loving care and attention from Michael and Simon Schulz, and a whole bunch of happy, adorable cows.