Stephen Jardine: Milking nature for a pure winner

THE other day the milkman came to the door. The last time the milk float stopped outside the Jardine residence, Sean Connery was probably at the controls.

Since then, milk has been a convenience purchase, sometimes from petrol stations and newsagents but mostly from the supermarket. While we search out free-range eggs and the best chicken and beef we can afford, for most of us milk is just, well, milk.

I’m about to discover if that is true. The milkman at the door came from a Scottish dairy which claims to be trying to challenge the supremacy of the supermarkets. I’ve agreed to go retro and give doorstep delivery another go. He told me, based on taste alone, there will be no going back. Let’s see.

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Milk is a hot topic at the moment. Consumption in this country has been dropping for years. Over the past ten years the fall has been about 16 per cent . Within that skimmed milk sales have actually been rising, but whole milk is down a whopping 15 per cent in the last three years.

The accepted wisdom has been that whole milk is full of fat and thus bad for you, but that belief is now under scrutiny. In her new book, What to Eat, Joanna Blythman argues whole milk is actually the best choice to make. With an average 4 per cent fat, it is well below the 20 per cent barrier for high-fat foods. Skimmed and semi-skimmed varieties have also lost some of the key vitamins that make up the cream part of whole milk.

Blythman argues, as part of a healthy, balanced diet, whole milk has its place. Since she is annoyingly right about most things, whole milk has returned to my fridge. Having been weaned off it, at first it tasted odd, but now it has become a Saturday morning treat on my cereal and I love it.

For serious milk aficionados, whole milk is good, but when it comes to taste, raw milk is best. This unpasteurised product has officially been banned in Scotland for 30 years because the government says it is a threat to public health, but a campaign is underway to change that and give the choice back to consumers.

People are funny about milk. Humans are the only adult mammals that drink the milk of other mammals. It is unnatural but at the same time, also one of the most natural things we do – a comforting echo of childhood.

As a student I remember drinking in an Edinburgh pub that briefly flirted with having milk on tap. Clearly they hoped to tune in to that nostalgia. The experiment lasted about a week.

With so many fruit, energy and health drinks on the shelves, it’s not hard to see why milk has been in decline in recent years. But on a number of fronts, producers are now fighting back.

Given the choice between a pure product of the farm, packed with natural vitamins and calcium and a sugary, carbonated, caffeine-fuelled juice, there is no contest. I’d choose milk anytime.