I bought a half gallon of raw milk the other day at the Marion Square market at the stand run by Wadmalaw Island's Celeste Albers, who's getting to be quite the local food celebrity these days (see this nice profile in the Charleston City Paper). Unhomogenized and unpasteurized, it's as natural as milk can get.
Proponents claim a range of health benefits from drinking raw milk--everything from its being a good source of energy (which seems pretty likely) to remarkable but sketchy healing powers (see here, for example). But I could really care less about that. My interest is in the taste. And, without a doubt, raw milk has a strong, unique taste that is very unlike your supermarket pasteurized milk.
Part of it is the richness, for whole raw milk is thick and creamy--and yes, if you leave it undisturbed the cream does separate and float to the top. The color is a soothing pale yellow, not the stark whiteness of "regular" milk. But there's more to it than that. The milk has a definite strong taste of--I wasn't sure what it was at first, but it was the same wild flavor that you get with grass-raised beef. And then it struck me. It was the flavor of the grass--a definite hay-like taste/aroma that immediately brought back fuzzy memories of visiting my parent's friends' farms when I was a little kid. To put it bluntly, raw milk tastes the way hay smells.
I had the same reaction to it that I did when I first tried grass-fed beef. I would like to say that the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight burst down and I cried, "What have I been missing all these years?" But I didn't. It was unusual, it was different, it was interesting--but it definitely is an acquired taste. Three decades of a palate raised on pure-white, cool but almost tasteless milk are not wiped away in a single gulp.
But, I'm intrigued enough to keep trying it. I've heard people who were raised on farms say that nothing beats the taste of raw milk fresh from the cow, that it is the most wonderful, warming, and pleasing of all foods. I can see why. It would be like returning to Stilton cheese and a fresh baguette after a steady diet of American cheese or Wonderbread.
I'm just glad to know that there's now a regular supply available in Charleston.