The increasing interest in artisanal foods is opening up all kinds of opportunities in farming that could hardly have been predicted even a few years ago. Who would ever have thought a good market for small, backyard hen coops would open up. Or hops and malting barley farms starting up close to craft breweries? Or cricket flour discussed as a practical new food?
The controversy over fats and cholesterol has contrarily opened new specialized farm markets for what I like to call artisanal milks. During the scare about cholesterol, Jersey and Guernsey cows, known for milk high in butterfat, declined in number and Holsteins, with less fat in their milk, increased. (A neighbor who milked Jerseys told me once that he kept a Holstein in his herd in case he had to put out a fire.) Then slowly, the attack against saturated fats subsided to the point where books singing their praises popped up all over. People started looking into dairy products with a more discerning eye. Consumers discovered what dairy farmers have known all along: milk is not a generic product, but encompasses many versions with varying tastes. Jersey milk tastes different than Holstein milk. Cow milk tastes different than goat, horse or sheep milk. When we went from milking by hand and cooling in tubs of well water to machine milking with the milk flowing directly from the cow through a pipeline into a cooling tank where its temperature was lowered rapidly, the taste improved markedly. Cows out on fresh green grass after a winter on hay and grain give milk with a different flavor that takes some getting used to. Milk from cows eating mostly corn silage tastes different than that from cows eating hay and grain. Homogenized milk tastes different than un-homogenized, pasteurized different than raw. Fresh from the cow, milk tastes different than after it is cooled. Even the kind of plants in the pasture can change the taste.
All this opens up a land of opportunity for dairy farmers just as the multiplication of vintners did for grape growers. Heavy cream is rarely available in regular supermarkets except as homogenized, pasteurized whipping cream, so local farmers with their eye on the market cater to new demands by adding Jerseys and Guernseys back into their herds and offering customers their own versions of heavy cream. Some customers want milk with the cream still on top, so local dairies specialize in non-homogenized production to provide them. Some consumers decide that they want unpasteurized milk. This takes some doing since unpasteurized milk in many areas is still as illegal as bootleg whiskey. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and bootleg milk is now legal in some states if you follow all the rules. Some innovative dairies have found success in simply going back to the older, slow-heat way of pasteurizing milk because some customers prefer its taste to flash-pasteurized milk. When I heard milk aficionados here in Ohio arguing about which slow-pasteurized brand has the better taste, Hartzler’s or Snowville’s, I figured we were in a new agricultural era.
Another fascinating development in the milk business is about milk with the A1 protein in it versus milk with A2 protein. (An excellent rundown on the subject appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of Feb. 10, 2016 by Debbi Snook, Section C. Also Chelsea Green publishes “The Devil in the Milk” by Keith Woodford which thoroughly covers the subject.) Although science hasn’t proved it and there is a lot of controversy about it, A2 milk, most often coming from Guernsey cows although some individual cows in other breeds may produce it too, is better for you, especially if you are lactose intolerant, say some consumers. They don’t care if science has not yet made a decision; they justify their position because they love the taste of A2 milk. According to the article cited above, a yogurt maker in Cleveland, Adrian Bota, has been using A2 milk, from a small Amish milk processor, for about five years and is so convinced of its benefits that he has gone into the dairy business himself, selling an A2 milk under his brand name, Origin.
I can imagine a future where milk lovers gather at a milk bar and discuss various kinds of Holstein Blanc, Jersey Chablis, and Guernsey Bordeaux. They pour daintily into their milk glasses, sniff elegantly, and earnestly argue over whether or not Kentucky Golden Guernsey exhuming flinty hints of the red clay terroirs upon which the cows graze is not better than Holstein blanc, with a light-bodied personality suggesting the sunny, slightly manury air that the cows breathe as they walk to and fro over California dry lots. Personally, I prefer slow-pasteruerized Lake Erie Jersey with its lean, tight, strongly mineralized flavor. What about you?
P.S. I just can‚t resist passing this tidbit along, underscoring just how small our planet is. Last week I mentioned how a golf course in my county is being plowed up for corn and beans. Just this morning (March 28), the news is reporting that China recently bulldozed two golf courses for farm crops.