Dairy produces taken for granted by most of us; at least until we come to the Philippines! I remember my first trip here in the eighties; I craved a milkshake and a decent ham and cheese sandwich! You could order both from Room Service at the 1-star does house I was staying at in Manila, but the milk made from powder, and the bread was sugar infested Filipino bread, with strange purple ham and high-temperature cheese!

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Factory.

Nearly twenty years later the situation has changed considerably. While you can still get the same bread, ham, cheese, and powdered milk, you can also buy a much more full range of quality dairy products in just about any supermarket. Note the location is the “super” market, not the “native,” “local” or any other kind of market. Dairy products imported, new to the diet and thus more expensive than the average item on sale at the “Mercado” or local market.

Currently, the Philippines is about only 2% self-sufficient in dairy production. The National Dairy Authority is aiming at increasing that to 5% this year with an innovative program called “Palit Baka,” more about that later. Imports of milk from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and Europe in various forms set the economy back nearly US$400 million in 2003. As the acceptance of dairy products grows in the A, B, and even C classes, we can expect to see that figure rise.

One thing I have always found intriguing is the total absence of goat’s milk and goat’s cheeses. Given every spare plot of dirt has a ruminant or three grazing away and the market rarely has “Kambing” for sale (usually just a hind quarter, co where does the rest of the beast go?), how come nobody milks them and sells the milk or makes cheese or yogurt?

I turned to the Asawa for guidance, and she merely shrugged and said that no Filipino would buy goat’s milk or cheese. No reason, they just wouldn’t. I have learned not to argue with her too much, especially on matters like this. Still, it seems pretty strange to me, especially when there are some great goat’s milk cheeses to be had and surely fresh goat’s milk is better than nothing at all in the calcium stakes?

However, back to the baka, or cows. The NDA website is full of fascinating information and indeed should be visited. These people are making a very definite effort to improve the health and diet of the average Filipino. They are determined to bring fresh milk and dairy produce within the grasp of just about everybody.

The Palit Baka program has farmers borrowing cows and keeping them for a period of a few years. (They can also buy selected animals and at P70,000 each, it might be worth investigating if your in-laws have a few spare plots of grassy land around their house). During this time the breeding program the NDA sponsors is monitored, and new cross breeds developed that can survive the tropical climate. All milk produced that consumed by the farmer sold to the local dairy center, and much of it goes back to the poor of the community through subsidized feeding programs for malnourished children.

Some of the milk, of course, ends up in the supermarkets and here in Cebu, I can buy fresh juice for about the same as “fresh milk,” i.e., UHT long life milk. My Asawa calls the UHT (ultra heat treated) milk “fresh milk” as opposed to powdered milk. Growing up in the province they never had (and her parents still never have) UHT “fresh milk.” Powdered milk was the best they could afford, and that wasn’t as often as it should have been. Real fresh juice is a novelty, and yet slowly she is getting more used to having it around. I find that you need to finish the raw milk off in a day or two, whereas back in Australia, even at the height of summer, fresh juice would last three or four days if refrigerated. Also using the same refrigeration practices, local raw milk turns a little sour within 48 hours of opening.

If you see a bottle of Cebu Fresh Milk in the dairy department of your Gaisano, SM, Robinson’s, Food or Rustan’s supermarket, buy it! Help this fledgling industry get off the ground and help improve the diet of the average Filipino. The more real fresh milk that produced and sold, the more chance there is that dairy products will become more affordable and more available to everybody in this country.

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