How to Get Unpastuerized Milk

The demand for grass-to-glass unpasteurized milk is high. Here’s how to get it.
t’s a family affair: Debbie Oliver (left) and Allison Bryce (right), Toni Oliver’s stepmom and daughter, help with deliveries. // Photograph by Jacob Lewkow

It’s not unusual to see lines outside Corktown’s Brooklyn Street Local on Saturday mornings. But not everyone’s waiting for a table. Many are here for milk.

Raw milk. Sweet. Creamy. And situationally illegal. State regulations prohibit retail and direct-to-consumer sales of raw — unpasteurized — milk. And yet, here are people getting gallons of it without breaking any laws.

So how do you get a gallon?

Have a cow, so to speak. Purchase a herd share, a contract for partial ownership of a cow (you can get one-twentieth for about $72 these days), and you can drink raw milk from it. No need to bring Bossy home. She lives at the farm.

Toni Oliver, 45, will be your dealer — or “dairy fairy,” as her delivery van’s signage proclaims. On Saturdays, she makes around 75 deliveries throughout metro Detroit, and she delivers on other days, too.

Waiting for her in Corktown is Hamtramck resident Gary Saganski, an Oliver Farms customer since 1999, when the 136-year-old family farm in Tuscola County switched from selling its raw milk to commercial dairies for processing to selling herd shares. Saganski raised his two sons on it and picks up 1.5 to 2 gallons per week, along with eggs, meats, and raw-milk cheese.

Drinking raw milk “is absolutely one of the healthiest things you can do,” Saganski says “We’re replenishing our microbiome with that milk. And it’s delicious.”

Saganski’s not alone in his enthusiasm. Messaging from pop culture and social media influencers such as Tori Spelling and Danica Patrick shares real-world benefits from consuming raw milk. For many consumers, the voice of personal experience is more easily digestible — and means more — than data from often contradictory and competing scientific studies.

Hamtramck resident Gary Saganski picks up his raw milk in Corktown. An Oliver Farms customer since 1999, he raised his family on it. // Photograph by Jacob Lewkow

“I have lactose-intolerant people who can drink my milk,” Oliver says. “One lady would go into anaphylactic shock if she drank pasteurized milk. Her holistic doctor said to try raw milk. She did and had no reaction.”

“The government doesn’t track raw-milk production,” says Mark McAfee, chair of the California-based Raw Milk Institute. “But my sense is that over the last 20 years or so, there’s been an increasing drumbeat from more-informed consumers for more raw milk. People are looking for foods with a long laundry list of health benefits. Eighty percent of our immune system is based in our gut.”

Demand for raw milk accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic and continues from consumers seeking immune-boosting foods.

“I’m serving over 200 families,” Oliver says. “I can comfortably have 400 members and not be strained. I’ve probably added 25 people in the last month.”

Raw milk, though, has its detractors.

The Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development cite the risk of illness and/or death from transmission of human pathogens, such as brucella, campylobacter, cryptosporidium, E. coli, listeria, and salmonella.

These bacteria can pose serious health problems, especially for those with immune deficiency issues. For many, that’s a deal-breaker. But not for those who point to foodborne-illness outbreaks from many foods, including pasteurized milk and its by products.

“There is a strong libertarian streak among many in the food movement, who demand the right to eat whatever they want, without interference from the government,” wrote Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in The New York Times Magazine in October 2011.

Flavorful aged raw-milk cheese curds add zing to Brooklyn Street Local’s popular poutines. // Photograph by Jacob Lewkow

The key to raw-milk safety is proper handling.

“Farmers that are trained in the use of proper standards for raw milk produce very low-risk raw milk,” McAfee says. “Consumers thrive on it, and so do the farmers.”

“You have to know your farmer,” insists Oliver, whose 30 cows from a closed herd are grazed on 20 acres of pasture. “We have an open-door policy. Come watch how the cows are treated and how they’re milked every night at 5 p.m. All the cows are wiped down. We make sure their bags are empty to prevent mastitis. The milk is in the pipeline. We’re not milking into buckets and carrying it. The chance of contamination is less because of the way we do things.”

According to Oliver, there have been no reported foodborne-illness outbreaks from her raw milk.

For the zero-waste minded, McAfee says super-clean raw milk that’s kept cold has a 20-day shelf life. But even when it begins to “go off,” it’s usable. “Raw milk sours naturally,” Oliver says. “Pasteurized milk that sours is rancid.”

The bottom line, according to Oliver? “People who’ve gotten milk from us always end up coming back.”

To contact Oliver Farms, text Toni Oliver at 810-356-1799.

The Perfect Union of Cow and Bug

The Food and Drug Administration requires that raw-milk cheese be aged for 60 days at no less than 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Cheese has a more intense and nuanced flavor when it’s made with unheated milk,” says Scott Evans, domestic cheese buyer for Zingerman’s Delicatessen.

“Raw milk gives you a greater sense of terroir or a taste of place,” adds Zach Berg, who
is a certified cheese professional through the American Cheese Society and co-owner and head cheesemonger at Mongers’ Provisions. “Each day’s batch is distinct and has unique characteristics.”

This story is from the September 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.