Dear Aggie: I have seen creamline milk being sold in local stores. What is different about it compared to the milk I normally buy at the grocery store?
Most milk goes through processing stages before your pour it into a glass. Creamline milk is milk that has been processed without one step: homogenization. Homogenization is when milk is put through a machine that breaks up fat globules that are naturally present in the milk into smaller bits. Without homogenization, the milkfat molecules in milk naturally rise to the top of the glass or carton. This occurs because the fat is light. This layer of cream on the top of un-homogenized milk is what coins the term: creamline.
The homogenization process is why most milk sold in stores doesn’t have a layer of cream, or milkfat, on the top of the container. Homogenization of milk results in a more even texture and color and there is no need to shake homogenized milk before drinking it — unless you are trying to distribute delicious chocolate syrup that may have sunk to the bottom. Since creamline milk is sans homogenization, bottles are often labelled with a “shake well” statement to remind consumers to distribute the milkfat throughout prior to taking a drink. However, the worst thing that can happen if you forget to shake before taking a drink is that you get a sip full of delicious cream that is concentrated at the top. Creamline milk is how it naturally comes out of the cow, and people did not start homogenizing milk until the process was invented by Auguste Gaulin in 1899.
Milk is processed before it reaches consumers in a store. Most cows in the United States are milked either two or three times a day. The average production level for a typical Holstein cow is 75 pounds/day. However, some cows can produce upwards of 125-150 pounds/day. Holstein cattle are the most common dairy breed in the United States, are black and white in color, and are known for their ability to produce large quantities of milk. Once cows are milked, the milk is collected into those shiny stainless steel tanks you may see while driving past farms in the North Country. These are called bulk tanks. Trucks with trailers made specifically for hauling milk will then transport the milk to a processing plant where milk undergoes the necessary processing steps before being sent to stores. Unless being marketed as raw milk sold directly on-farm, milk is pasteurized at a processing facility before it undergoes homogenization. Pasteurization is a process that heats the milk up to a certain temperature for a precise amount of time to eliminate harmful bacteria that could be present in the raw milk. This process was invented by another Frenchman, Louis Pasteur. Homogenization does not serve as a safety precaution as pasteurization does, but allows for consumers to have the choice of skipping the step of shaking their milk prior to drinking it. It is simply a measure of consumer preference.
Regardless of whether the milk you are purchasing in a store is creamline or regular homogenized milk, know it has been safely produced and processed.
Written by Abigail Jantzi, Dairy and Livestock Specialist