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I admit, I’ve always been the last person to buy organic. When I started being in control of my own food shop I didn’t have the money to be fussy – I just picked the cheapest option. Then as our finances got better but we became time poor instead – with two children, work and a home – I’d generally choose products there were on offer or good value, making quick decisions during the grocery shop to have the whole process over as quick as possible.
When it comes to milk although we drink a lot of it as a family I have always just picked up whatever colour we needed – blue, green or red – and I haven’t ever taken the time to think about it more than that. But, last week Arla invited me to spend the day on one of their organic dairy farms in West Sussex to find out exactly where their milk comes from.
In all honesty I expected this trip to the farm to be just like any other trip to the farm with the children or school but it was different as this farm was purely a dairy farm so just had cows on it. There were more cows than I had ever seen but they were in large fields with plenty of space to roam around and only segregated by their age or time in life. There were calves in one field that were a few weeks old but already quite big, another field held cows that were heavily pregnant and we even saw a calf moments after birth which was pretty incredible.
The cows all spend as much time as possible outside and are truly free-range. The only come inside if their health is at risk – if the weather is at it’s worst, for example. But, milk can be free-range without being organic and I know I definitely found all the labels confusing before visiting the farm. But I learnt that free-range is purely about grazing time but organic cows graze outdoors on grass and clover where no artificial fertilisers or herbicides’ are used, instead, relying on crop rotation, cultivation and the right mix of crop varieties. The science behind it is incredible and I had no idea so much planning went into producing milk – something I take for granted that I can always grab a pint or two when I need it from the supermarket.
We were shown the milking room at the farm and where milk is stored ready for Arla to collect it. I was impressed that Arla takes all the milk that each of their farms produce and it isn’t capped at a certain amount – the whole process is focused on limiting waste and getting as much, high quality milk into circulation as possible.
Organic farms spend years, generations even, creating fields that have the right mix of grass, clover and other vegetation perfect for the cows. I had no idea so much went into making good quality milk but if you make sure a cow is healthy, happy and fed the right things then it means that the milk they produce will be not just free-range but as natural as possible too.
We finished our trip to the farm with a cooking demonstration where we were shown ways to use Arla Free Range Organic Milk at home. This was eye opening for me because other than in hot drinks and on cereal I don’t use a lot of milk and so it was great to learn more about milk and what a versatile product it is. The chef made us Sussex Smokey Scotch Eggs and Vanilla Creme Brûlée which were both so full of flavour and the perfect filling lunch.
Over the course of the day on the farm I learnt that when you choose organic, you choose products that have been produced by working with the environment rather than against it and to a high level of animal welfare. It means that when I reach for the organic milk in the future rather than standard milk it will be a choice that is better for the animals – letting them graze outside for longer and helping to preserve the land they graze on.
When shopping for milk in the future I’ll be looking for the Soil Association organic symbol and from this month, Arla Organic Farm Milk has become Arla Organic Free Range Milk making sure that we know every pint we see on the shelf comes from cows that are grazed outside whenever possible and under the best of conditions.
I didn’t know anything about free-range organic milk before visiting the farm but now, seeing how happy the cows were and how well looked after they were it really has made me think more about the split second choices I make when I’m doing the food shop. Not just about milk but about vegetables and meat too. It’s so nice to know exactly where our food is coming from.
Here are the recipes we were shown on the day if you’d like to try them for yourself:
RECIPE: SUSSEX SMOKEY SCOTCH EGGS
- 4 medium organic eggs
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil plus oil for deep frying
- Season with salt and pepper
For the Scotch Egg casing:
- 1-pint Arla Organic Free Range Milk
- 1⁄2 grated nutmeg
- 250g natural Smoked Haddock
- 1 Bay leaf
- 200g potatoes for mashing
- 1 bunch of Dill – finely chopped
- 100g High Weald Smoked Cheddar chopped or grated (or other smoked cheese)
For the roux:
- 1 banana Shallots
- 1 clove Garlic
- 1⁄2 leek
- 1 stick of celery
- 1⁄2 carrot
- 3oz butter
- 3oz plain flour
For the Pané (breadcrumbs):
- 300g flour
- 1 med organic egg
- 200ml Arla Organic Free Range Milk
- 300g or 1 packet of breadcrumbs
- Boil seasoned water and then add the eggs, turn down to a simmer for 5 minutes for a soft-boiled egg, chill in cold water and put aside
- Add the smoked haddock, nutmeg and bay leaf to the milk and then sous vide in a water bath for 25mins at 45 degrees celsius. – if not using a water bath place the ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer for 5 mins
- Remove haddock from milk and save both for later
- Peel and chop 200g of potato and boil for 15-20 mins, once cooked gently mash
- Meanwhile, finely dice shallots, garlic, leek, celery and carrot. Sauté in oil for 10-15 mins or until golden brown, season with salt and pepper to taste
- Once finished, add the milk from the poached haddock to the pan and simmer for 3 mins.
- In a large sauce pan add the butter and gently melt, to this add the flour and mix together to form a paste
- Add the milk mixture and cook gently for 3 mins stirring continuously
- Then add the mashed potato and cheese, once thoroughly mixed together leave to chill
- Flake in the cooked haddock, add to the chilled mixture along with the chopped dill
- Peel the boiled eggs and dust in seasoned flour
- When the casing mixture is cool separate into 4 portions and wrap around each egg enclosing it completely, chill for at least one hour to ensure it keeps its shape
- In the meantime, prepare your station to breadcrumb the eggs
- You will need three shallow trays, one for the seasoned flour, one for the beaten egg and one for the breadcrumbs Ideally, it would help if you had an extra pair of hands when doing pane, but if you are alone, I suggest that you use one hand for the flour and beaten egg and milk mixture and the other for the breadcrumbs
- First, take the encased eggs one by one and put it in the seasoned flour, making sure that it is well coated
- Shake off any excess flour and pass the food into the beaten egg, again making sure it is well coated
- Shake off any excess and finally pass the food onto the breadcrumbs, again making sure it’s well coated
- Tap the food firmly to ensure that the breadcrumbs are well attached and remove from the crumbs onto a clean plate or tray
- Now deep fry the completed scotch eggs at 160°C until golden brown
RECIPE: VANILLA CRÈME BRÛLÉE
- 200ml double cream
- 100ml Arla Organic Free Range Milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 50g sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- Preheat the water bath to 80°C – if not using a water bath preheat the oven to 140C/120C fan
- Warm the milk, cream and vanilla together in a small saucepan to 60°C
- In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thoroughly combined
- Slowly whisk the warm cream and milk into the egg mixture
- Pour into individual shallow jars and screw on the lids very tightly
- Place the jars in the water bath to cook for 60 minutes then remove from the water with tongs and chill them on ice
- Alternatively place in oven for
- 20-22 mins until just set
- Once set, sprinkle the surface with sugar and Brûlée with a blowtorch
- Allow the sugar to set for 5 minutes before serving