The somatic cell count (SCC) in bovine bulk tank milk is presently used as an indicator of raw milk quality, reflecting the udder health status of the herd. During mastitis, SCC increases, mostly owing to an influx of polymorphonuclear leucocytes (PMN) from blood into milk, with a concomitant change in milk composition. Bulk tank milk samples were categorized according to their SCC, as well as polymorphonuclear leucocyte count (PMNC), to study relationships between SCC, PMNC and various raw milk quality traits, i.e. contents of total protein, whey protein, casein, fat and lactose, casein number, proteolysis and rheological properties. The proportion of PMN, obtained by direct microscopy, was significantly higher in samples with high SCC compared with low SCC samples. SCC and PMNC were strongly correlated, yielding a correlation coefficient of 0·85. High SCC samples had lower lactose and casein contents, lower casein number and more proteolysis than low SCC samples. Samples with high PMNC had a lower casein number than low PMNC samples. Samples with high and low SCC or PMNC did not differ in respect to rheological properties. Our results do not indicate that PMNC is a better biomarker than SCC for raw bulk tank milk quality, as previously proposed.