Milk is one of the most nutritious foods you can buy. It’s also a complete food. So to read that 60 dairy farmers packed in milk production in December last year is highly distressing. As is the fact that, according to the National Farmers’ Union, we’ll be lucky if there will be 5000 surviving dairy producers in the UK by the year 2025.
The reason why farmers are calling it a day is pretty clear. Despite receiving subsidies from the Government, the dramatic drop in price per litre – down to just 20 pence – has meant that it just isn’t a sustainable concern any more for many. One year ago farmers received 33 pence per litre, but the latest pricing means that buying a litre of milk is now cheaper than buying a litre of water.
Falling revenue and rising costs turns milk production sour
When you do the maths it simply doesn’t add up. The price paid for milk has dropped by 65% since last year, to 2007 rates. Meanwhile farm and animal feed costs are 36% and 50% higher respectively than in 2007. Add to this increased competition from overseas in milk-based products such as dried milk, cheese etc. and a slowdown in UK sales of dairy products abroad and the picture becomes even gloomier.
If the price paid doesn’t rise to acceptable levels, more dairy farmers are likely to leave the business. Alternatively, in order to accept lower rates, we may see fewer cows roaming free in the fields and find that the milk we buy has been produced on a ‘mega farm.’ Farms of this type are already in existence and consist of enormous sheds, housing several hundred cows which do not go outside to graze on fresh grass. Instead they are fed processed feed and given regular doses of medicine to ensure they remain healthy.
Surely this isn’t the way we want dairy farming to go?
So what can people do to help?
If you feel strongly, you can sign an e-petition:
Otherwise you can ensure that all the dairy products you buy are British – so not just milk, but cheese, cream, yogurts and ice-cream. Another way to ensure a fair price is paid to farmers for the milk you drink is to get your milk delivered by independent milkmen or buy milk from farmers who sell directly to local shops or farm shops.
There are plenty of dishes you can make using British dairy products. Why not try your hand at making a restaurant classic – Crème Brûlée?
Recipe for Crème Brûlée
142ml carton double cream
100ml full-fat milk
1 vanilla pod
5 large egg yolks
50g golden caster sugar (plus extra for topping)
Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) or 180°C (conventional) /gas 4. Sit four 175ml ramekins in a deep roasting tin at least 7.5cm deep (or a large deep cake tin), one that will enable a baking tray to sit well above the ramekins when laid across the top of the tin. Pour the two cartons of cream into a medium pan with the milk. Lay the vanilla pod on a board and slice lengthways through the middle with a sharp knife to split it in two. Use the tip of the knife to scrape out all the tiny seeds into the cream mixture. Drop the vanilla pod in as well, and set aside.
Put the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for 1 minute with an electric hand whisk until paler in colour and a bit fluffy. Put the pan with the cream on a medium heat and bring almost to the boil. As soon as you see bubbles appear round the edge, take the pan off the heat.
Pour the hot cream into the beaten egg yolks, stirring with a wire whisk as you do so, and scraping out the seeds from the pan. Set a fine sieve over a large wide jug or bowl and pour the hot ixture through to strain it, encouraging any stray vanilla seeds through at the end. Using a big spoon, scoop off all the pale foam that is sitting on the top of the liquid (this will be several spoonfuls) and discard. Give the mixture a stir.
Pour in enough hot water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting tin to come about 1.5cm up the sides of the ramekins. Pour the hot cream into the ramekins so you fill them up right to the top – it’s easier to spoon in the last little bit. Put them in the oven and lay a baking sheet over the top of the tin so it sits well above the ramekins and completely covers them, but not the whole tin, leaving a small gap at one side to allow air to circulate. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the mixture is softly set. To check, gently sway the roasting tin and if the crème brûlées are ready, they will wobble a bit like a jelly in the middle. Don’t let them get too firm.
Lift the ramekins out of the roasting tin with oven gloves and set them on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes only, then put in the fridge to cool completely. This can be done overnight without affecting the texture.
When ready to serve, wipe round the top edge of the dishes, sprinkle 1½ tsp of caster sugar over each ramekin and spread it out with the back of a spoon to completely cover (Anne Willan’s tip for an even layer). Spray with a little water using a fine spray (the sort you buy in a craft shop) to just dampen the sugar – then use a blow torch to caramelise it. Hold the flame just above the sugar and keep moving it round and round until caramelised. Serve when the brûlée is firm, or within an hour or two.
(Recipe from BBC Good Food)