Sampling Lucky Layla's Raw Milk;
So Far, No Fever

Categories: Basket Case

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The Lucky Layla Farm Store in Plano is the local hub of raw milk activity.

As the only certified raw milk dealer for miles, Lucky Layla sees a steady flow of older milk drinkers who grew up drinking milk straight from the cow and conscientious mothers carrying babies in wraparound slings.

"I super appreciate having it here," says Dirna Shipley, a mother of three from Richardson. "We go through a gallon a week."

Raw milk is exceedingly controversial. While proponents credit the unpasteurized drink with curing asthma and boosting energy, health officials call it a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. A number of state legislatures are now grappling with how to regulate raw milk sales -- or whether to allow them at all.

But few of the current raw milk debates focus on the milk's taste. The word "disease" comes up far more frequently than "delicious" in online forums devoted to the topic. As a food writer, I always wondered why.

Until recently, I lived in one of four states where raw milk can only be sold as pet food. While it's technically legal to buy raw milk for your cat (cough, cough), a black market feel clings to the trade. I've written about murders, mob ties and embezzlement, and have never encountered as many skittish sources as when I tried to chronicle raw milk in North Carolina. I was referred to farmers who refused to tell me their real names or say the words "raw milk" over a phone line. Needless to say, I never made it to the sampling stage.

But in Texas, dairy farmers can sell raw milk on their farms. They can't bring the milk to farmers' markets or sell it through off-site retail stores, but set-ups like the blatantly cute on-farm store at Lucky Layla are totally legit. And since Lucky Layla sells its raw milk by the pint, I finally had the chance to try it.

I'd encountered raw milk once before, when working on a Montana ranch where the milk went straight from the udder to our table. But I usually stuck to oatmeal, and have no recollection of the milk, other than the wranglers' complaints when the cows got into the wild onions.

Lucky Layla's milk was slightly grassy, but I was most surprised by its lightness, which I'd guess is a function of it not being homogenized. The milk was a deeper ivory than most conventional milks, but anyone accustomed to supermarket milk would recognize the taste instantly. Shipley described the milk as sweet, but I didn't get much sweetness: Like most fresh-from-the-farm products, it tasted essential and clean.

If someone's a believer in raw milk's purported healing powers, perhaps taste doesn't matter. But among those whose raw milk decisions aren't driven by health concerns, the drink's flavors - like them or not - are deserving of more discussion.

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