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On the cover of The Guaranteed Pure Milk Co., Limited Cook Book a 1920’s style ornate cornucopia of fruits and leaves frames a sitting, smiling cherubesque little girl cradling a full bottle of milk. The recipes in the small 39 page book are divided into 12 sections. The first one, makes up 28 pages of the book, including chapters like: “Soups; Fish, Oysters, etc.”, “Chicken, etc.” “Vegetables; Salads; Salad Dressings and Sauces”, “Dessert, Drinks and Confections” and “Bread, Muffins, etc.” The second section is comprised only of cottage cheese recipes. A smaller section, it contains a scant four pages divided into: “Cottage Cheese Meat Substitutions”, “Cottage Cheese Vegetable Dishes and Sandwiches” and “Cottage Cheese Desserts.

All the recipes are very brief. Some have no ingredient lists or measurements and only a few vague sentences of instructions. Reading the recipes, I feel like this cookbook is meant for readers who have made recipes similar to these many times before, and this cookbook is offering small variations on classic recipes. Even though I am a seasoned home cook, I sometimes felt ill equipped to attempt some of the recipes. [1]

With the exception of the cover, only three pages of the cookbook are not recipe related. Two of these pages have quotes and images directed at the health and welfare of children. The last of these pages is more of a statement about the health benefits of milk and milk products in relation to cost and being a good housekeeper.

The only indication of a place of publication is included in the notice of copyright for United States and Canada, and there is no indication of date of publication. Artwork and pictures in the cookbook lead me to believe the publication was printed in the 1920s or early 1930s. But, where, when and why was this promotional publication created? The curious section on cottage cheese stands out as a clue. Why is there a section on cottage cheese recipes alone?

Since this cookbook contained evidence of being a promotional publication, I looked into the title, The Guaranteed Pure Milk Co., Limited Cook Book. The sponsoring company, The Guaranteed Milk Co. Ltd. was a small milk distribution company that ran out of Montreal. [2]

As the history of the company goes, a young man by the name of George Hogg, from a dairy farming family, conceived of the idea of a Montreal dairy delivery business to help his family in hard financial times. He began as a small dairy farmer, and only two years later in 1883, began distributing milk to Montrealers.

Hogg began his company with a few bottles, a ladle, some cans and a horse and carriage. In 1901, Hogg and his brother in law, M.W.H. Trenholme, purchased the first milk plant in Quebec, The Guaranteed Milk Company. They worked on raising sales, and built a larger plant in 1910. Eventually, the Guaranteed Milk Co. underwent modernization to equip the plant for pasteurization in accordance with city law and continued producing and distributing milk until 1990, ultimately became a part of Parmalat Canada.

After researching the history of the sponsoring company of the cookbook, I wanted to understand the reasons for its publication. Why, for example, were three ads and the cover of the cookbook all directed at children’s health?

Prior to the development of pasteurization methods in the nineteenth century,[3] the widespread adoption of its practices in Canada in the 1930s as well as regulation of the dairy industry, it was a known that milk distributors tampered with their milk products to increase the amount they had to sell. Milk was cut with less expensive fillers such as chalk, and different kinds of animal offal. Consequently, milk salesmen became notoriously the most feared urban food vendors.[4] Another factor that made milk feared before pasteurization was the lack of modern refrigeration. Unpasteurized milk gathered and propagated bacteria, leading to widespread serious food borne illness. There was a chance of illness even from reputable milk distributors because the bottles weren’t properly sterilized before bottling, or blocks of ice, meant to keep the milk cold in transit, were insufficient to halt the propagation of bacteria which caused serious illnesses and epidemics. One of the most horrendous examples of this was a typhoid epidemic in Montreal in 1927, which was attributed to raw milk. 535 people died and over 5000 were affected. From that point, there was a push to instate and enforce pasteurization. As a result of the epidemic, the city dumped over 20,000 gallons of supposedly infected raw milk. Citizens were urged to boil their milk and the U.S. even had an embargo on Canadian milk.[5]

If I had to approximate a date of publication for this cookbook, I feel that it might have been published soon after the Montreal typhoid epidemic of 1927. The Guaranteed Pure Milk Co. Ltd. would have wanted to re-establish the public’s faith in raw milk, and to differentiate their company from other’s distributing unpasteurized milk in Montreal.

Obligatory pasteurization of milk sold commercially in Montreal became law in 1929. Although reticent to enforce the law, city leaders saw it as a necessary evil for two reasons. The booming industrial sector created an exodus from rural areas of Quebec to Montreal. Subsequently, this increased population led to an increase of consumable products, including milk and milk products. The city had many difficulties dealing with the sudden population boom, and food safety became a contentious subject. Montreal struggled to balance modern technology and food safety along with traditional methods of cooking and views about food consumption. Because of this, although it was law, food regulations, remained extremely lax until 1929.

One of the common practices in traditional cooking in rural and urban centres alike in the 1920s was to use leftover milk to make cottage cheese. The name “cottage cheese” itself evokes a traditional, rural home. During the pre-refrigeration era, milk was brought from the cow into the home, the cream was skimmed off the top for butter and the milk was used that day. Whatever milk was leftover was placed near the hearth to slowly turn into cottage cheese.

The recipe for cottage cheese in The Guaranteed Pure Co., Limited Milk Cook Book was tucked away in the chapter “Eggs and Cheese”:

“When the milk is sour and thick pour it into a shallow pan and set it in a warm place, either on the back of the stove or on the warming shelf of the oven, leaving the door open. Let it stand until it separates, then pour it into a cheesecloth sugar or flour bag. Be sure the bag has been first wrung out of cold water. First, let the curd drain all night; then remove the contents of the bag and add a little salt and pepper. If very dry, add a little cream or sweet milk; if correctly made, it should not be dry […]”


This was the kind of traditional recipe that needed more information for my skill set. Luckily, a few days before I received The Guaranteed Pure Milk Co., Limited Cook Book, I had read the chapter “Milk” in Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Allen outlines the chemical properties between raw and pasteurised milk (194-6) and illustrates these differences with cheese making recipes for the home cook. The core difference is that many cheeses made with raw milk don’t need added rennet. Rennet, a naturally occurring enzyme in a cow’s stomach, is present in raw milk; however the process of pasteurisation eliminates this enzyme. It must be reintroduced to pasteurized milk to make many kinds of cheeses. Rennet is necessary for making cottage cheese with pasteurized milk for the separation of the curds from the whey to occur.

Although I enjoy making fresh cheeses at home, I never thought to work with unpasteurized milk let alone find some in an urban centre like Toronto. I cast a wide net and after two weeks, I finally received an email from an acquaintance. Her co-worker regularly picked-up raw milk once a week from a farmer, at an undisclosed location in Toronto. I agreed I would bring $10.00 for a gallon to a meeting the following week. I was excited, not only because I was going to be able to experiment with a new ingredient, but because the entire situation felt very subversive. And in all ways, it was. In Ontario, the sale of raw milk has been illegal since 1938 as outlined in the Milk Act. The only exception is the sale of raw milk cheeses, which can be sold when produced at a provincially licenced plant and aged for 60 days at no less than 2⁰ C.[6]

A few days later, we met and I explained this project. She was enthusiastic about the project, but asked to keep all names out of the article. We headed to the where the unmarked gallon of raw milk was stored, covered in a bag, in an office fridge. As I left, I was giddy, partly because I couldn’t wait to begin making cottage cheese, and because I was holding an illegal ingredient.

I left the milk in the fridge overnight. By the next day, there was a clear separation in the milk. A wonderful golden cream was floating on top of the creamy white milk. As I skimmed off the cream, I asked my partner if he wanted some of it for his coffee. He looked at me, to the jar and then reached for the familiar blue carton in the fridge. To be honest, I was hoping he would be the guinea pig for me. I had procured this random gallon of raw milk from who-knew-where, all on good faith from my acquaintance. I was apprehensive. I dipped my pinky in and tasted raw cream for the first time. It was so much more viscous than pasteurized cream with a slight taste of hay.

I began to prepare the raw milk to make cottage cheese. Since the recipe in The Guaranteed Pure Milk Co. Limited Cook Book was vague, I used Darina Allen’s[7] “Homemade Cottage Cheese” (227) recipe to better understand quantities[8] and utensils to use. I covered the Mason jar with cheese cloth, left it on the counter close to the stove and waited.

On the second day, the milk looked unchanged but had a slight distinctive sour smell to it. On the third day, there was a clear separation happening. The milk had started to thicken and was floating on about two fingers worth of yellow whey. By the third day of sitting out, the cheese was finished. There was a clear separation between the yellow, viscous whey and the creamy, white curds were floating on top. I strained the curds from and reserved the whey. The appearance of the cottage cheese from raw milk was nothing like that of the pasteurized kind. They were smaller, almost granular, like crumbled feta cheese. The taste of the curds was slightly sour, not in a pronounced, displeasing way but tangy.

I had fully intended to make a recipe in the section dedicated to cottage cheese from The Guaranteed Pure Milk Co., Limited Cook Book, but I couldn’t cook with it. I wanted to keep its flavour as pure as possible. I slathered the cottage cheese on fresh pumpernickel bread, zested it with lemon, placed smoked salmon on top and shared it with friends.

The raw milk was only a third of the project. I turned the reserved raw cream into butter. It was nothing like I’d ever had before. The slight hay flavour of the cream was more pronounced once the water was extracted. I used it to butter baste seared steaks. The whey from the raw milk, I have since used to start lacto-ferments such as ginger beer, beet kvass[9] and I frequently add it to my morning smoothies. The one gallon of raw milk was involved in over dozen food preparations in our house, and it never made us sick.

It’s hard to put into words what The Guaranteed Pure Milk Co., Limited Cook Book has taught me. In the beginning of my research, it brought me closer to the evolution of the politics of milk in Montreal and more broadly, Canada which clearly demonstrated the necessity of food safety standards and regulations. However, my quest to execute the traditional recipes in the cook book let me to raw milk and to the underground network of people trying to returning to traditional cooking and closer relationships with farmers. A growing number of people, mostly in urban settings, are taking it their own hands to source out ingredients, including raw milk, for beneficial properties such as probiotics and vitamins. Some of them are much like me and simply want to rediscover older methods of cooking. The Milk Act does regulate the standards by which we now rely on to be able to have safe milk and milk products; however I wonder why it must be one or the other, pasteurized or unpasteurized, legal or illegal? The answer remains difficult, and needs discussion. But for now, the taste of raw cream remains on my lips and has left me wanting more.