For years, Maryland has banned the sale of raw milk because of health concerns. The ban also applied to products made with raw milk, even though such products made outside Maryland could be sold here.I'm watching relatives with horses and cattle out West. Something like this is all the difference in the world between survival of the herd and shipping them off to the stockhouse.
Now, Maryland has started a test project allowing several dairy farms to produce raw milk cheese that is aged at least 60 days, a process that mimics pasteurization. And the Fosters' Chapel's Country Creamery is the first to start production.
"Don't expect too much," Eric Foster said with a laugh as he used a tool the size of an oar to stir the curds and whey.
But expectations are high. That three months from now - good Lord and good bacteria willing - the curds and whey will become fine blue cheese. That the blue cheese will command at least $22 a pound at farmers' markets and retailers such as Whole Foods. That this family farm can survive.
The last is perhaps the greatest challenge at a time when small dairy farms around the country are failing because of competition from mega milk producers, declining export markets and plummeting wholesale prices. The number of dairy farmers in Maryland has dwindled to 547 from about 800 just 10 years ago, according to state records.
To break even milking 85 grass-fed Jersey cows on their 114-acre farm, Eric and Holly Foster - both 39, with four children - need to make about $1.75 a gallon.
"You don't get rich, but you could pay your bills" at that price, Eric Foster said. "You could fix a flat tire."
Within the past two years, the Fosters got as much as $2.40 a gallon. Now the price is down to about $1.17 a gallon.
"This is the worst dairy crisis that's occurred in the last 100 years," he said. "It's just a bad spiral."
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