Home Dairy 101: How to Pasteurize Fresh Milk at Home

Backyard goats are the new chickens!

pic courtesy White Mountains Ranch

We don’t actually have goats in our backyard. But we are part owners in a goat co-op. We contributed to the purchase of five dairy goats (four already milking and one yearling) and help pay for their feed and keep each month. They are boarded on a small ranch just east of the city and are fed organic feed and lovingly cared for by our friend and source for all things chicken. We receive 1-2 gallons of fresh milk each week. I love it when there is a little extra to play with and have so far made various cheeses, kefir and cajeta. (Subscribe to the blog for those recipes which are coming soon.) We haven’t bought any cow, soy, rice, almond or other milk since.


Up until now I have shared primarily recipes that I thought would interest a wide selection of people. I realize that very few people in America need to pasteurize milk at home. The vast majority of milk sold is already pasteurized and those drinking raw milk have likely gone to a great deal of expense and trouble to find it. Raw milk is legal here in California (but heavily monitored and restricted) and it cannot be bought in many states.

I wasn’t really intending to get into the whole pros/cons of raw milk… to be honest we never sought it out. We were interested in joining the co-op so that we knew where our milk was coming from. We like that it is from a very small ranch and that we know how the animals are being treated. We are confident that they do not receive hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. We decided to give it a shot. We did not intend to give raw milk to Baby Bird ever, nor would I have wanted to drink it if/when pregnant again. The milk tastes surprisingly good. It tastes less “goaty” then goat milk I have had from the store. And to tell the truth, the raw milk really does taste better….

But… my husband and I were drinking the milk for about four months without issue until one of my cheese recipes required the milk to sit at room temperature for 24 hours. We each had only one bite of the cheese as it tasted really “wrong.” Unfortunately, the 24 hours had encouraged the growth of not only the good cultures but also some yucky bacteria. (In our case, campylobacter.) We were sick, as in drink-the-water-in-Mexico-sick, for two weeks. I am so grateful that our baby never had any.

Our milk is handled under safe and sanitary conditions. It could’ve been a fluke that one of our bottles, one time, got one or two little germies, and the cheese making process was perfect conditions for multiplying them to a critical mass. I personally believe now that drinking milk raw was like playing Russian Roulette. <Sigh.> Too bad since it tasted so good.

Luckily, there is a very easy fix! Now I err on the safe side and pasteurize all of our milk (including sterilizing bottles and equipment) before drinking it or using it in any dairy making.

So why would YOU be interested in learning how to pasteurize milk at home? Here are some reasons why this is an important skill:

  1. You may get your own goats or purchase some raw milk at a farmer’s market and want to give it to a small child, an adult with an impaired immune system, or make cheese out of it.
  2. There could be a zombie apocalypse and all things homesteading will be increasingly important. :)
  3. The world banking system could fail, leading to a return to feudalism. :)

In the case of 2 or 3 above, there probably won’t be interwebs anymore, so I suggest studying well. You never know when you might need the information.

How To Pasteurize Milk at Home

In the simplest terms, raw milk can be made extremely safe to drink by bringing it to 161° F for 30 seconds, or bringing it to 140° F for 30 minutes. I use the “high and fast” method for drinking and general use and the “slow and low” for making cheese. (Higher temperatures can effect the quality of cheese, but the quicker time makes it more convenient for general use.)

Step 1: In a clean and sterilized, non-reactive pot or double boiler, bring the milk up to temperature. Stir the milk on occasion with a sterilized spoon or spatula so that the bottom doesn’t scorch. Note: In the picture below, I am pasteurizing 5 quarts of milk. I am not using a double boiler since it wouldn’t fit. I have once pasteurized as little as 1 quart (rushing to work in the morning and needing milk for coffee and cereal) and I used the double boiler. It took less time to pasteurize a quart of milk than it took to make 2 cups of coffee.


Step 2: While the milk is heating, clean and sterilize the bottles. I wash them in hot water and then add a teaspoon of bleach. I fill them with hot water up to the brim, seal them with their lids and let them sit for 2 minutes. Rinse very well.

Step 3: Prepare your set up for cooling the milk. The taste will be best if you can cool the milk as quickly as possible once it has been at 161° F for 30 seconds or 140° F for 30 minutes. Water is a better conductor of heat than air, so the bottles will cool fastest in a bath of ice water. For a batch this large, I put a stopper in the smaller, second half of my sink and fill it with ice, ice packs and water.

Step 4: As soon as the milk has hit 161° F for 30 seconds or 140° F for 30 minutes, pour it into clean and sterilized bottles through a filter. I also use a large funnel. A mesh filter will catch any bits of milk that have “cooked.” (Tip: if the surface of your sink is uneven, place a small plate upside down and then place the bottles on top of the plate.)


Step 5: Seal the bottles. Submerge them in ice water. Let the bottles cool until they are at least room temperature, then dry them and move them to the refrigerator.


Voila! Pasteurized milk is supposed to last longer in the fridge than raw.

(Pictures of the goats are courtesy White Mountains Ranch.)

UPDATE: Please check out our brand new Store for all of the equipment and supplies used in pasteurizing milk and cheese making.

Raw milk can be a hot topic, so some thoughts regarding comments: Opinions and information regarding raw milk are okay but please be kind. These are the choices we have made for our family after research and deliberation. Please respect our self determination as well as those of other commenters. My intention is not tell you TO drink milk a certain way, only HOW if you so choose. Thank you!

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