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Maryland milk

There's a growing body of evidence challenging the notion that low-fat dairy is best.
Simon Dawson
Bloomberg via Getty Images
There's a growing body of evidence challenging the notion that low-fat dairy is best.

It seems odd that we have never talked about one of cooking's most basic ingredients on our show. And for the life of me, I don't know how milk escaped our notice. But Chef Jerry Pellegrino can tell you how vital wholesome fresh milk is to our lives.

Although their numbers have declined in recent decades, there are still a lot

of dairy farmers in Maryland whose cows are faithfully producing over two hundred thousand gallons of milk a day. While most of the milk is sold to major dairy companies, a number of small Maryland dairy farmers still sell direct to the consumer. My undoubted favorite is South Mountain Creamery, to whom I have been devoted for many years.

Whole milk is just the tip of the iceberg of course. Products like butter, cheese, yogurt and ice cream are for sale too. And a trip to South Mountain Creamery for their home-made ice cream can be the highlight of any weekend.

There's a lot of confusion about milk and milk fat. I looked it up and good old whole milk is only 3.5% fat. Diet conscious folks have other options: 2%, 1% and fat-free skim milk are always on hand. But some people wonder if it makes that much difference.

But when it comes to cooking, milk really shines, although it seems so basic that we often overlook it. Naturally, we like to substitute milk for water to make a recipe richer and more creamy. Using milk instead of water in an omelet, for instance, will make a fluffier texture.

How about substituting skim milk for whole? Opinions differ, but whole milk does add enough fat to a recipe to change the texture. Cakes made with skim milk will be drier and a little less flavorful. But if your recipe calls for other fats like butter or oil, then the differences are negligible. In that case, if you want to switch out water for skim milk in a recipe, you'll probably be just fine.

Quite often you will see a recipe that calls for scalded milk, which is a useful step. Simply pour the milk into a sauce pan and heat until bubbles form at the edges. That's it. The benefit is that it will allow the milk to cook faster, enhance the texture of bread dough, and make the milk more prone to absorbing different flavors that may come its way. Furthermore scalding gives whole milk a richer nuttier flavor. It's a good trick.

Buttermilk is making a sort of comeback these days, since many old-timey recipes call for it. The acidic tanginess of buttermilk works extremely well with baked goods like pancakes, biscuits and cakes. Since buttermilk is actually low in fat, it has the advantage of increasing flavor and smoothness without the addition of the usual fats.

If you store doesn't carry buttermilk, just get some 2% milk and some lemon juice. Pour one tablespoon of lemon juice into each cup of milk you're using, and let chemistry do the rest. Happy baking.

And finally, if you end up with too much milk on hand... freeze it! It can last for several months. When it's time to thaw it, just leave it in the refrigerator overnight, and then shake it well to break up any ice crystals that may have formed. You'll be pleased to learn it hasn't lost a thing.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.