The Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton

Chapter XXXII.

General Observations on Milk, Butter, Cheese, and Eggs.


1608. Milk is obtained only from the class of animals called Mammalia, and is intended by Nature for the nourishment of their young. The milk of each animal is distinguished by some peculiarities; but as that of the cow is by far the most useful to us in this part of the world, our observations will be confined to that variety.

1609. Milk, when drawn from the cow, is of a yellowish-white colour, and is the most yellow at the beginning of the period of lactation. Its taste is agreeable, and rather saccharine. The viscidity and specific gravity of milk are somewhat greater than that of water; but these properties vary somewhat in the milk procured from different individuals. On an average, the specific gravity of milk is 1.035, water being 1. The small cows of the Alderney breed afford the richest milk.

1610. Milk which is carried to a considerable distance, so as to be much agitated, and cooled before it is put into pans to settle for cream, never throws up so much, nor such rich cream, as if the same milk had been put into pans directly after it was milked.

1611. Milk, considered as an aliment, is of such importance in domestic economy as to render all the improvements in its production extremely valuable. To enlarge upon the antiquity of its use is unnecessary; it has always been a favourite food in Britain. “Lacte et carno vivunt,” says Caesar, in his Commentaries; the English of which is, “the inhabitants subsist upon flesh and milk.” The breed of the cow has received great improvement in modern times, as regards the quantity and quality of the milk which she affords; the form of milch-cows, their mode of nourishment, and progress, are also manifest in the management of the dairy.

1612. Although milk in its natural state be a fluid, yet, considered as an aliment, it is both solid and fluid: for no sooner does it enter the stomach, than it is coagulated by the gastric juice, and separated into curd and whey, the first of these being extremely nutritive.

1613. Milk of the human subject is much thinner than cow’s milk; Ass’s milk comes the nearest to human milk of any other; Goat’s milk is something thicker and richer than cow’s milk; Ewe’s milk has the appearance of cow’s milk, and affords a larger quantity of cream; Mare’s milk contains more sugar than that of the ewe; Camel’s milk is used only in Africa; Buffalo’s milk is employed in India.

1614. From no other substance, solid or fluid, can so great a number of distinct kinds of aliment be prepared as from milk; some forming food, others drink; some of them delicious, and deserving the name of luxuries; all of them wholesome, and some medicinal: indeed, the variety of aliments that seems capable of being produced from milk, appears to be quite endless. In every age this must have been a subject for experiment, and every nation has added to the number by the invention of some peculiarity of its own.


1615. BECKMAN, in his “History of Inventions,” states that butter was not used either by the Greeks or Romans in cooking, nor was it brought upon their tables at certain meals, as is the custom at present. In England it has been made from time immemorial, though the art of making cheese is said not to have been known to the ancient Britons, and to have been learned from their conquerors.

1616. The taste of butter is peculiar, and very unlike any other fatty substance. It is extremely agreeable when of the best quality; but its flavour depends much upon the food given to the cows: to be good, it should not adhere to the knife.

1617. Butter, with regard to its dietetic properties, may be regarded nearly in the light of vegetable oils and animal fats; but it becomes sooner rancid than most other fat oils. When fresh, it cannot but be considered as very wholesome; but it should be quite free from rancidity. If slightly salted when it is fresh, its wholesomeness is probably not at all impaired; but should it begin to turn rancid, salting will not correct its unwholesomeness. When salt butter is put into casks, the upper part next the air is very apt to become rancid, and this rancidity is also liable to affect the whole cask.

1618. Epping butter is the kind most esteemed in London. Fresh butter comes to London from Buckinghamshire, Suffolk, Oxfordshire, Yorkshire, Devonshire, &c. Cambridge butter is esteemed next to fresh; Devonshire butter is nearly similar in quality to the latter; Irish butter sold in London is all salted, but is generally good. The number of firkins exported annually from Ireland amounts to 420,000, equal to a million of money. Dutch butter is in good repute all over Europe, America, and even India; and no country in the world is so successful in the manufacture of this article, Holland supplying more butter to the rest of the world than any country whatever.

1619. There are two methods pursued in the manufacture of butter. In one, the cream is separated from the milk, and in that state it is converted into butter by churning, as is the practice about Epping; in the other, milk is subjected to the same process, which is the method usually followed in Cheshire. The first method is generally said to give the richest butter, and the latter the largest quantity, though some are of opinion that there is little difference either in quality or quantity.


1620. CHEESE is the curd formed from milk by artificial coagulation, pressed and dried for use. Curd, called also casein and caseous matter, or the basis of cheese, exists in the milk, and not in the cream, and requires only to be separated by coagulation. The coagulation, however, supposes some alteration of the curd. By means of the substance employed to coagulate it, it is rendered insoluble in water. When the curd is freed from the whey, kneaded and pressed to expel it entirely, it becomes cheese. This assumes a degree of transparency, and possesses many of the properties of coagulated albumen. If it be well dried, it does not change by exposure to the air; but if it contain moisture, it soon putrefies. It therefore requires some salt to preserve it, and this acts likewise as a kind of seasoning. All our cheese is coloured more or less, except that made from skim milk. The colouring substances employed are arnatto, turmeric, or marigold, all perfectly harmless unless they are adulterated; and it is said that arnatto sometimes contains red lead.

1621. Cheese varies in quality and richness according to the materials of which it is composed. It is made — 1. Of entire milk, as in Cheshire; 2. of milk and cream, as at Stilton; 3. of new milk mixed with skimmed milk, as in Gloucestershire; 4. of skimmed milk only, as in Suffolk, Holland, and Italy.

1622. The principal varieties of cheese used in England are the following:— Cheshire cheese, famed all over Europe for its rich quality and fine piquant flavour. It is made of entire new milk, the cream not being taken off. Gloucester cheese is much milder in its taste than the Cheshire. There are two kinds of Gloucester cheese — single and double. Single Gloucester is made of skimmed milk, or of the milk deprived of half the cream; Double Gloucester is a cheese that pleases almost every palate: it is made of the whole milk and cream. Stilton cheese is made by adding the cream of one day to the entire milk of the next: it was first made at Stilton, in Leicestershire. Sage cheese is so called from the practice of colouring some curd with bruised sage, marigold-leaves, and parsley, and mixing this with some uncoloured curd. With the Romans, and during the middle ages, this practice was extensively adopted. Cheddar cheese much resembles Parmesan. It has a very agreeable taste and flavour, and has a spongy appearance. Brickbat cheese has nothing remarkable except its form. It is made by turning with rennet a mixture of cream and new milk. The curd is put into a wooden vessel the shape of a brick, and is then pressed and dried in the usual way. Dunlop cheese has a peculiarly mild and rich taste: the best is made entirely from new milk. New cheese (as it is called in London) is made chiefly in Lincolnshire, and is either made of all cream, or, like Stilton. by adding the cream of one day’s milking to the milk that comes immediately from the cow: they are extremely thin, and are compressed gently two or three times, turned for a few days, and then eaten new with radishes, salad, &c. Skimmed Milk cheese is made for sea voyages principally. Parmesan cheese is made in Parma and Piacenza. It is the most celebrated of all cheese: it is made entirely of skimmed cow’s milk. The high flavour which it has, is supposed to be owing to the rich herbage of the meadows of the Po, where the cows are pastured. The best Parmesan is kept for three or four years, and none is carried to market till it is at least six months old. Dutch cheese derives its peculiar pungent taste from the practice adopted in Holland of coagulating the milk with muriatic acid instead of rennet. Swiss cheeses in their several varieties are all remarkable for their fine flavour. That from Gruyère, a bailiwick in the canton of Fribourg, is best known in England. It is flavoured by the dried herb of Melilotos officinalis in powder. Cheese from milk and potatoes is manufactured in Thuringia and Saxony. Cream cheese, although so called, is not properly cheese, but is nothing more than cream dried sufficiently to be cut with a knife.


1623. There is only one opinion as to the nutritive properties of eggs, although the qualities of those belonging to different birds vary somewhat. Those of the common hen are most esteemed as delicate food, particularly when “new-laid.” The quality of eggs depends much upon the food given to the hen. Eggs in general are considered most easily digestible when little subjected to the art of cookery. The lightest way of dressing them is by poaching, which is effected by putting them for a minute or two into brisk boiling water: this coagulates the external white, without doing the inner part too much. Eggs are much better when new-laid than a day or two afterwards. The usual time allotted for boiling eggs in the shell is 3 to 3–3/4 minutes: less time than that in boiling water will not be sufficient to solidify the white, and more will make the yolk hard and less digestible: it is very difficult to guess accurately as to the time. Great care should be employed in putting them into the water, to prevent cracking the shell, which inevitably causes a portion of the white to exude, and lets water into the egg. Eggs are often beaten up raw in nutritive beverages.

1624. Eggs are employed in a very great many articles of cookery, entrées, and entremets, and they form an essential ingredient in pastry, creams, flip, &c. It is particularly necessary that they should be quite fresh, as nothing is worse than stale eggs. Cobbett justly says, stale, or even preserved eggs, are things to be run from, not after.

1625. The Metropolis is supplied with eggs from all parts of the kingdom, and they are likewise largely imported from various places on the continent; as France, Holland, Belgium, Guernsey, and Jersey. It appears from official statements mentioned in McCulloch’s “Commercial Dictionary,” that the number imported from France alone amounts to about 60,000,000 a year; and supposing them on an average to cost fourpence a dozen, it follows that we pay our continental neighbours above £83,000 a year for eggs.

1626. The eggs of different birds vary much in size and colour. Those of the ostrich are the largest: one laid in the menagerie in Paris weighed 2 lbs. 14 oz., held a pint, and was six inches deep: this is about the usual size of those brought from Africa. Travellers describe ostrich eggs as of an agreeable taste: they keep longer than hen’s eggs. Drinking-cups are often made of the shell, which is very strong. The eggs of the turkey are almost as mild as those of the hen; the egg of the goose is large, but well-tasted. Duck’s eggs have a rich flavour; the albumen is slightly transparent, or bluish, when set or coagulated by boiling, which requires less time than hen’s eggs. Guinea-fowl eggs are smaller and more delicate than those of the hen. Eggs of wild fowl are generally coloured, often spotted; and the taste generally partakes somewhat of the flavour of the bird they belong to. Those of land birds that are eaten, as the plover, lapwing, ruff, &c., are in general much esteemed; but those of sea-fowl have, more or less, a strong fishy taste. The eggs of the turtle are very numerous: they consist of yolk only, without shell, and are delicious.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31