Why don’t we drink pigs’ milk?

Humans can eat or drink just about anything. If it’s not poisonous, we don’t have too much or too little, and we clean/cook it properly beforehand, the chances are we can eat it.

It’s interesting then, that for almost all of human history, we haven’t consumed pigs’ milk. It seems like such an obvious thing for us do, after all, we will happily drink cow’s milk and goat’s milk, with some regions of the world also consuming horse, donkey, and even camel milk. But pigs milk remains aloof, even in the historical records.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Is it poisonous? It should go without saying, but no, pigs’ milk is not poisonous to humans. While it contains a higher fat content to cows’ milk (8.5% as opposed to 3.5%) in the grand scheme of things this wouldn’t stop us from consuming it.

As it turns out, the reason we don’t have pigs’ milk in our fridges now is surprisingly simple. Pigs don’t like to be milked. Now, I’m not saying that other animals enjoy being milked, but compared to pigs it might appear that way. Many people are surprised to learn that pigs, especially protective sows, can be very aggressive. Not surprising I suppose when we look at their uncastrated, undomesticated male counterparts, the wild boar.

Regardless, this aggression makes them extremely difficult to milk and their biology only adds to this. With fourteen teats that only produce milk for around fifteen seconds (for reference a cow has four teats and milk produce milk for more the ten minutes in most cases) and what you end up with is a difficult process for not much reward. Your average sow will only produce around 13lbs (5.8l) of milk, as opposed to 65lbs (29.5l) from a cow. What’s more, while lactating, sows cannot become pregnant again, thus the guarantee of a steady supply of milk isn’t possible. These discrepancies essentially make large scale sow milk farming unviable.

The Exceptions to the rule

But we wouldn’t be human if a few people in history had looked at the above list and chuckled before grabbing their buckets and heading out to the pig shed to milk some sows. Indeed, while drinking pigs’ milk seems to have been uncommon throughout history, a few enterprising individuals have tried to make cheese from the milk, and some still do today.

I was able to find two farms, one in the Netherlands called ‘Piggy’s Palace’ and one in North Yorkshire in the UK called the ‘The Courtyard Dairy’. Both of them make small amounts of the cheese and sell them locally or put them it their other pork products, such as sausages. Chef Edward Lee has also developed a pigs’ milk ricotta over in the US. Buying the cheese is a matter of knowing the right people it seems.

Nowhere is this truer than in Italy. There are reports of a small town in Tuscany where the cheese is still produced. Supposedly produced here for millennia, it would make this village the only place in the world to continually produce what has been called ‘The Rarest Cheese in the World’. Called Porcorino (or Porcherino in the local Tuscan dialect), very little information is available on the exact location of this cheese-lovers pilgrimage site. Perhaps, wandering through the hills of Tuscany, searching for the world’s rarest cheese isn’t a bad way to spend your time this summer?

Short of purchasing it from a local farmer or finding an Italian mystic on the road to point you to the cheese alter, you’re going to have to buy it at auction if you want to try this delicacy. Be prepared to get your wallet out though, because a 2.2lbs (1kg) of the pigs’ milk cheese fetched an eye-watering $2,500 at a charity auction. For reference by the way, Pule cheese, another rare cheese made of Siberian Donkey milk and goats’ milk, is frequently called the world’s most expensive cheese and regularly sells for $1,000 per 2.2lbs (1kg). Call it novelty or people wanting to give generously to charity, the fact remains that this rarity comes with a very high price tag.

So, if you are lucky enough to try it, what does it taste like? Well of all the descriptions I read, a few things cropped up again and again, richness being the primary one. The high fat content makes it delightfully creamy and yet somehow grainy at the same time. The main flavour profile was ‘gamey’ and ‘earthy’ with undertones of truffle, mushrooms and chestnuts, perhaps carried forward from the pigs’ own diet. It certainly sounds like a flavour and experience all its own.

Understanding the wealth fare and needs of the animals that we consume is and will continue to be one of the most important topics of our age. By moving away from a factory farm model, we open ourselves up to so many more experiences, both culinarily and culturally. Individuals have proved that with the right care and attention, our symbiotic relationship with animals and the world around us can yield some amazing and unique results. Whether those results are more sustainable farming, fairer pay and conditions for farm labourers, or the chance to try something truly unique, it’s only when we return to a more natural way of farming that we get to enjoy the real benefits and abundance that the world has to give.

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