Before I get into why this is the best pasteurized milk I've ever had, I should backtrack and say that I love raw milk and have long been a fan of Mermaid Farm, which for years was Martha's Vineyard's lone source of unpasteurized milk. But the pasteurized milk that Grey Barn and Farm proprietors Eric and Molly Glasgow and their herd of Dutch belted cows are producing in Chilmark, MA is astonishingly good.
Besides the fact that it's rarely more than a few days old when you drink it, raw milk tends to taste better than pasteurized milk for the same reason that freshly-squeezed juice tastes better than juice from concentrate and vegetables you cook yourself taste better than vegetables that have been canned: It hasn't been cooked, and therefore hasn't lost the qualities—richness, nuttiness, grassiness, acorn-y-ness, whatever you wanna call it—that make it taste like milk that came fresh from a cow.
You just don't get these characteristics in pasteurized milk, even the better-quality local milks sold at higher-end markets. Or so I thought before I tried the stuff from Grey Barn. This milk is so rich and so flavorful, I double-checked the bottle label to verify that I hadn't bought their raw milk by mistake.
In fact, the flavor impressed me so much that I asked the Glasgows if I could come for a morning milking at the farm (and pick their brains a little). Eric kindly obliged and met me in the field at 6 a.m. one morning this past spring. He took me along with him as he herded the ladies from the pasture and into the dairy parlor, where they lined up four at a time to be milked.
The most significant reason their milk tastes so good isn't all that surprising. The Glasgows use low-temperature pasteurization, meaning the milk is heated to 145 degrees and held there for 30 minutes before being rapidly cooling down, as opposed to high-temperature short-time (HTST) pasteurization, where the milk is heated to 161 degrees for 15 to 20 seconds, or ultra-high-temperature (UHT) pasteurization, where it's heated to 280 degrees for at least one minute before being chilled. (These numbers vary slightly according to which source you go by; mine was Anne Mendelson's excellent book, Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages.)
I also imagine that this milk's remarkable flavor comes down to the breed of cow and their diet. The Glasgows chose to raise Dutch belted cows for a couple of reasons, one of which is that they're bred for both milk and meat production. (The farm also processes and sells beef, pork, and eggs, not to mention the most incredible heavy cream I've ever had.)
Another, according to this article from the Martha's Vineyard Times and The Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America, is that the fat globules in the milk are very small without homogenization, which translates to milk that is easily digested. As for their feed, the cows have it pretty good, meaning we milk drinkers do, too. They graze on some of the lushest grass the Island has to offer, and the Glasgows supplement that feed with sprouted barley and a mineral mix.
Also of note: The farm, which the Glasgows bought in 2009, just received its organic certification last month. They also have big plans for making cheeses (some are in production now) and smoking meat on the premises.
As it happens, Eric mentioned to me that one of his goals for the farm was to produce the best milk possible. I'd say he did it.
The pasteurized creamline and skim milk is available for $3 a quart (plus $2 bottle deposit) at the farm daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as well as in Alley's General Store, 7A Foods, Cronig's Markets, and other local stores on Martha's Vineyard (prices vary).
The Grey Barn and Farm
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Senior Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.