Pig's milk, and other difficult dairies

Writing in Slate, with reference to Deborah Valenze's Milk: A Local and Global History, Benjamin Phelan discusses the milks of various mammals, wild and domestic, and describes their culinary peculiarities. It turns out that pig's milk, in particular, is both delicious and awfully hard to procure:

And pig’s milk, alas, is also not quite ready for the American palate. With a little effort, I tracked down the chef I heard about at Whole Foods, the one who's trying to make pig's cheese. It's Edward Lee of Louisville's 610 Magnolia and Top Chef. “Anyone who farms pigs would say that pigs' milk would make an incredible cheese,” he says. “The problem is that it's nearly impossible to milk pigs. When sows are lactating, they get very aggressive. They're not docile like cows. They're smart, skittish, suspicious, and paranoid. They do not like you to get up in their business.”

Lee managed to accumulate a few jars' worth of pigs' milk, from which he made half a cup of pig ricotta that he says was delicious. Getting even such a small amount of milk required jackal-like derring-do: Lee crept up on the sows while they were sleeping, frantically pinched at their tiny nipples, then ran away when they woke up and started to freak out.

If only there were an industry that made pig-milking machines.

“What we've discovered,” says Lee, “uh, what we've concluded, you know, is basically that the machine that would fit a pig's teat is a human breast pump. It fits perfectly.”

Others’ Milk (via JWZ)


  1. Something new on the list of things to try–pig’s cheese, not milking a pig.  (That’s just crazy.)

  2. I sincerely doubt that he made ricotta. “Ricotta” translated means “recooked”.
    Ricotta is made from the whey leftover from other cheesemaking, therefore there must have been some other cheese made for there to be the whey.
    More likely what he made was an acid cheese; panir is one name for this type of curdled milk cheese.
    It has no rennet nor culture, but the milk is curdled by adding acid, usually in the form of vinegar or lemon juice.
    The mis use of the term ricotta totally gets my goat.

      1. Just because you found an article that supports your misinformation doesn’t mean that all of you are not wrong.
        Ricotta is made from whey. Those recipes are mis using the term, just as the article did. They are all wrong.
        My homemade ricotta is made from whey. My vinegar cheese is made with whole milk and vinegar. They are NOT the SAME product!

    1. I’m with Lexica. I (and lots of other amateur cheesemakers) view ricotta as more of a process than a prescription. I’m going to keep making “acid cheese” from milk and calling it ricotta — after all, it looks like ricotta, tastes like ricotta, and has all the same uses as ricotta (though I will grant you that it’s probably fattier than traditional ricotta). The term “ricotta” pretty accurately prepares you for what you receive when making what you call “acid cheese.”

      Put another way, if you’re going to insist that only ricotta made in the traditional Italian way can be called ricotta, then I hope you don’t call that stuff they make in New York and Chicago “pizza.” Nothing gets MY goat like inconsistency.

      1.  I’d expect “acid cheese” to be something you ate along with hash brownies….

        Meanwhile, if you want sheep milk products, Whole Foods carries sheep-milk yogurt, and there’s lots of sheep and goat milk cheeses around.  There was somebody in the news a few years ago doing camel milk.

  3. Isn’t anyone troubled over the fact that producing milk requires the females to be forcefully inseminated, and cheese production requires the stomach (rennet)of calves for the milk to coagulate? This along with the fact that milk for an adult isn’t as much a necessity as it is a luxury. Not trying to start a flame-war or anything, just want to feel the general opinion of people.

    1. Well a lot of cheese is made with vegetable rennet, so calf stomach rennet is not “required”.
      And what do you mean by “forcefully inseminated”?
      Just come to my house during breeding season, no one is being “forced “!

      1. Most cheese is even labeled so you can tell whether it’s animal rennet or microbial.  And I’ve got enough North/West European ancestors that’s I’ve got the adult-lactose-tolerance mutation (though in practice I almost never drink milk unless there’s coffee in it.) 

        But yes, there’s an ethical issue in that cows only produce milk if they’ve had calves recently enough, and while the female calves may become the farmer’s next generation of milk cows, the males are going to end up as meat.   I don’t eat meat, but I’ll still use the milk.

    2.  No more than it bothers me to see people slice living vegetables without even stunning them first.  Just because you can’t hear their screams doesn’t mean they don’t feel and suffer! 

    3.  I’m not troubled.  I don’t care if it’s made from the tears of children, because, mmmmm cheese!

    4. Speaking as someone who raises pigs (though I haven’t tried to milk them), they get themselves pregnant via the boar that’s in with them and seem to enjoy it, much as people would. There are some who artificially inseminate pigs but it’s more of a hassle than it is with cows due to the weirdness of the pig reproductive gear.
      I do think that you could train pigs (even without breeding) to allow for milking. They’re pretty smart. You’d have to think about how to go about it; possibly start by getting the sow soused on a gallon of beer, then offer positive reinforcement with snacks when some sort of milking is successful….

        1. Not yet… I did give them a bunch of old fruit mash that had turned alcoholic, but it apparently was not strong enough to do much of anything. Remember, grown pigs weigh 500+ pounds… it’d take a bit to affect them. Someday when I have a little more time and a vat of something fermented I might do the experiment again.

        2.  If you’ve read James Heriot’s books about being a vet, pigs like beer, and there are times it’s useful to calm them down.  And if you’ve got leftovers from brewing on your farm, they’ll be happy to consume them, so you won’t have to make Marmite with the rest.

        1. Pigs, not cows. Cows are usually pretty cooperative (5000 years of breeding), though I’m sure that the folks that milked the first aurochs suffered lots and lots of injuries. Anyway, I don’t think cows would drink beer – but I could be wrong.  

    5. Dairy cattle are the product of long term selective breeding for milk production.  If not milked a dairy cow can suffer intense pain, bacterial infection, and in some cases die.  And this is beyond what their calf needs, sometimes three times a day.

      A quick disclaimer: my father worked on a dairy farm. He would talk to and brush the cows every morning as he prepped and milked them.  The cows bred naturally, and their calves were not kept from them.

      I guess we could stop breeding those particular cattle. But I would rather stop poor farming practice instead.

    6. Not to go full-on vegan on everyone here but that has always been troubling for me as well.

      “If not milked a dairy cow can suffer intense pain, bacterial infection, and in some cases die. And this is beyond what their calf needs, sometimes three times a day.”

      Since there were cows before we domesticated them I’m guessing that the ‘not-completely-milked’ fatality rate was fairly low. I don’t think that we should set things up that we are doing a service to the cows, let’s just be clear.

      1. It is true the ancestors of modern dairy cattle would not have suffered these problems near as much, but we’ve bred this trait into cattle.  It’s fine to hold the opinion having performed this selective breeding was foul play on our part, but it won’t change the physiology of the animal back to its previous state.

        The full-vegan solution would have to be to phase out all breeding of milking and beef cattle.  And treat the ones that exist humanely.  But personally, I like my ice cream.

      2.  Apparently you have not met a mother who has recently given birth..humans can get mastitis too you know.

      3. Yeah, domestic cows are pretty different from their un-domesticated ancestors. Just like dogs are so different from wolves–and in countries where domestic dogs have been introduced but the culture isn’t so pet-crazy as the states it creates a huge problem. The dogs depend on on humans for food so they roam the streets scavenging. Gutierrez is right. You can’t undo those eugenics in one generation.

      4.  Modern dairy cattle have been bred to produce far more milk than their more natural ancestors.  A few years ago there was an article in the NYTimes about the decline of traditional breeds of cattle in Africa.  The Americans introduced Holsteins and similar breeds that produce 10-20 times as much milk, and it’s financially advantageous for Africans to breed them into their herds, even though the modern cows are far more fragile and dependent on industrial agribusiness technology to stay alive and productive, as well as being acclimatized to American conditions rather than African.  Some of the African breeds have amazing curved horns, much bigger and heavier than the ones on Texas longhorns, so they can fight off predators and live on more marginal land – but when the difference in milk production determines how many of your kids will live past childhood and maybe get an education, keeping traditional-style cattle loses out.

    7. Do you mean forcibly inseminated? I see no reason that it need be done forcefully, though I’m sure there are a few inhumane dairy farmers out there who are forceful about it. And as other commenters have indicated, it is often done quite naturally (i.e., by a randy male of the same species).

      As for the rennet, I would be a hypocrite if I told you I was troubled about that. After all, I just had veal for dinner.

    8. See, this is why you can’t ask a reasonable question concerning production of meat or dairy. You get butthurt hyper-sensitive meat-eaters going: HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME I DON’T CARE I EAT KITTENS AND PUPPIES BECAUSE I’M A MANLY MEAT-EATING MAN SUCK IT VEGANS!!11! 

      1. Gee, I thought most of the replies were fairly pleasant.  Are you sure you aren’t being “hyper-sensitive”?

    1. There is a store about half a mile up the street from me that sells, among other things, pig uteri. I don’t know what they do with the ovaries, which would be where the eggs are located, but if they’re harvesting the uteri it seems like it would be pretty easy to get the eggs as well.

      As for pig coffee, that’s easy. Roast some pork, then take your French press…

  4. Okay, so if human breast pumps work, all he needs is to attach them to a few radio-controlled piglets, right?

    1. Initial tests suggest that creeping up to humans while they are sleeping and frantically pinching at their nipples gets a similar response to the pigs.

  5. Mooove over cow milk, I’m drinking all my bacon milk shakes with pig milk, pure delicious pig milk.

  6. “What we’ve discovered,” says Lee, “uh, what we’ve concluded, you know, is basically that the machine that would fit a pig’s teat is a human breast pump. It fits perfectly.”
    OK, Rule 34, here’s a new fetish for you to have fun with…

  7. I started this conversation a long time ago at work, (presumably ending many others before they even started) when I got a container of this and left it on my cube wall.

    “Is that real!?”

    1. I’m not even really seeing a problem with that.

      *disclaimer* I don’t particularly care for animals…

      People seem to spend astronomical amounts of money on their pets and I can a market for something like that.  I mean we have Similac formula for human infants, I can’t see that the idea is much different.

        1. Well…I bet this stuff is _far_ more easy to obtain than ‘tiger’s milk’. More likely to be authentic too. I’ve always been skeptical about how much tiger’s milk is in ‘tiger’s milk.’

  8. We’ve got a farm nearby that produces Horses’ milk.  It was even a mini-hype a couple of years ago because of its alleged health advantages (eg. less fats.) Never tried it though.

  9. “I have nipples Greg. Could you milk me?” Even though it would be healthier for people to eat cheese made from healthy women, most people wouldn’t want to eat that and especially not Robert De Niro cheese right? Yet many people have no problem consuming milk from cows which are often unhealthy. Consider leaving non-human milk to the non-humans.

    1.  Human milk can’t make cheese. There is an issue with the proteins. A woman did a series on trying to do so with her left-over breast milk. That, and human milk has a higher chance of carrying human-targeting pathogens.

  10. I can’t believe I’m the first person to mention that this might finally lead the way to the creation of a true venezuelan beaver cheese.  Yum?

  11. Pigs only make milk when the piglet is suckling it (their glands don’t fill with milk automatically) and they only make milk for 15 seconds.  So how this guy was able to get a sleeping pig to make produce milk with his fingers is dumb. A breast pump fits on one nipple which is farrrr away from the other one. You are supposed to hook up 14 breast pumps to a pig to milk it? This guy seems a little off.

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