Recipes - Cheese
I recently was scrolling through my social media feed and came across a picture of the cow with a set of Virtual Reality goggles over its head. Reading the article, the premise seemed sound, although a bit outlandish. Let a cow see itself relaxing in a lush green pasture and it will make higher quality milk.
I have read studies out of Brazil where cows’ stress hormone, cortisol, is measured against different handling methods. To no one’s surprise, cows as a species are easily stressed.
So this begs the question, what makes cows happy?
First off, you need to make the immediate assumption that cows are like crotchety librarians. They want to follow a schedule, don’t want anyone running around chaotically and for God’s sake, be quiet! Old time dairy farmers have always said, if you keep them cool, dry and fed they are happy.
There are a few other specific things we can be doing though that will make our girls more comfortable. Cows are social and love to be brushed, either by an installed barn brush or other means. I recently read about robotic farms that require the hired hands to spend time in the stalls brushing the cows. Why? Because cows love it.
When moving cows, it is critical to not make a ton of noise or hurt them. Harming a cow causes it stress, which lowers milk production. The Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is an organization that certifies that animals that humans use for food are treated well. The curriculum is designed to protect the animals, but it also makes handling and movement much less stressful on them. There are some simple blocking movements, for example, that will steer cows where they are supposed to go without every touching them.
The bedding also plays a critical role in overall cow health and contentment. Because cows spend hours lying on bedding while manufacturing milk, it needs to be dry and comfortable. Finally, make sure that cows have ample room to move around. Being confined to tight quarters makes them tense and increases overall stress.
Taking care to provide cows with comfortable, stress free living environments will add measurable benefits to production and overall milk quality. Happy cows = healthy cows = better milk.
Early in my career, I was told to never bring up politics or religion. It is easy to understand why you would want to avoid conflict, but what I have never understood is how sustainability and the environment is a political, and to some, a religious topic.
I grew up loving the natural environment, with activities ranging from spending lazy weekends by the lake to organizing technology free backpacking trips in the mountains. Sustainability to me is a way to protect the natural habitat that has provided so much rejuvenation and substance in my own life.
Understandably, we can disagree about which resources need to be preserved and how to best go about doing it. In dairy, this conflict is heightened by social media. It shocks me when I see videos where cows are abused or read articles saying that dairy professionals are not concerned with public health. These voices are especially concerning when they come from people who haven’t even visited a farm or don’t understand the layers of regulations to which dairy plants must comply.
Based off my experiences visiting farms and dairy plants, many are already integrating a lot of sustainable actions that haven’t captured the attention of the general public. Initiatives range from developing closed system farms, developing onsite digestors, recycling water and reducing plastic use in packaging to eliminating product waste or reducing potential recalls and wasted product.
Sustainability commitments on corporate levels within many industries are helping build public awareness. Regarding dairy, it is our individual and industry wide responsibility to help build awareness by highlighting those sustainability actions that we see daily.
Sustainability is already redefining our industry. Let’s help give those efforts the recognition they deserve.
Heading back to the U.S. for our fall Board Meeting, the first thing I do when I land is head to the store for breakfast to buy my favorite go-to whole milk plain yogurt. Right away I notice the taste is different than what I am used to, not bad, just lighter. I’m expecting my typical full fat almost ice cream feel, but instead a lighter spoonful. Tastes good, but different experience. There are many different influences from recipes, seasonal butterfat levels to different customer tastes. Sensory preferences can change a lot, especially coming from Norway to Minnesota it is quite noticeable. While other brand name products aim to maintain the same flavors and textures from one country to the next. Quality must develop consistent engineering and testing plans to maintain conformity and manage risk, but also accommodate to geographic limitations.
While most of my go-to dairy brands change and there are a few that I stay loyal to when I travel. I can buy Jarlsberg cheese whether I am in Ireland, Norway or the U.S. and it tastes the same. This requires a team to ensure the equipment operates consistently between location, ingredients, training, SOPs and good controls for monitoring microbiological and solid levels. Many factors can shape sensory or introduce unwanted pathogens. Poor training may leave operators with different routines that result in varying cleaning cycles or fermentation times. Without good SOPs, training may not properly outline all areas to monitor. It takes a team to make sure that all risks are covered.
More importantly, it requires a proactive attitude or culture to look for department overlaps to mitigate risk or maintain consistent products. One team I work with has a standardized data collection and analysis program for receiving raw milk. These SOPs include materials, sample frequency to lab procedures. The idea is that more control and analysis on the front end then product Quality follows. Preventative controls in receiving should create good insight into the rest of the process to improve Quality Control. Control becomes more important as companies introduce brand names in new territories and seek to maintain consistency.
One of the best parts of working in the dairy industry is sampling cheese, ice cream, milk and my favorite, yogurt from different areas. Flavors may change geographically, but the passion and hard work behind our go-to dairy products are universal. I believe tasting food is the best way to understand the people and the new environment. The range of dairy products and innovation behind the tastes reflects the time and energy of the dedicated people. When I visit a new plant or dairy farm, I make sure to stop by the store to check out the local favorite dairy foods. This ritual has brought many surprises from coffee-flavored yogurt, parmesan dotted with salt granules, charcoal flavored ice cream to yogurt cultured with kefir korn. Dairy is a staple and a sense of pride in any good convenience store.
As I go from the store to the dairy plant- there are just as many changes that reflect the environment and people. From the receiving area where some trucks have automated samplers and others have haulers climbing on top. Even the names for these processing facilities change from plants, factories to dairies. Some have large silos as you enter, while others unload directly into lines that immediately shape the raw milk into the dairy products we love.
One plant I enjoy visiting has one receiving area for two processing facilities- one side is a cheese plant and the other is whey processing. Both are connected by a line to move the product from one plant to the other. This system is built on trust. There are no third-party hauling companies to turn to, just a permanent line that connects the two plants. Having space to build this type of infrastructure helps, but more importantly there is a good Quality system. The Quality departments monitor the data collected off the line and can be confident in the samples between the two plants. Confidence in the sample pulled off the line is key to building trust for all stakeholders involved no matter where they are in the process, especially important in receiving. Seeing how innovative dairy leaders are, from designing receiving areas to developing unique flavors, it makes you wonder how sharing more solutions could help make an even more dynamic industry.
Organic milk demand is gaining momentum. Images of cows basking in the sunshine, grazing on fresh grass in open pastures and being milked when they want it. This is what the movement wants to you feel when you are at your dairy case in the grocery store and reach for a gallon of organic and smile. This choice is healthier right?
Organic milk is from dairy cows that have not been treated with antibiotics.
As an industry, organic dairies make up less than 10% of all milk produced and overall sales have run roughly parallel to traditional milk sales, but they are slowly gaining ground. The idea behind milk that is free of chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or artificial agents seems like a sound notion, but is somewhat misleading.
Consider bovine growth hormones (rBGH), which is still approved for use to escalate the growth of young heifers. These hormones do not have any natural receptors in the human body, so they are considered inactive with zero known effects on human physiology. There is a grass roots movement based on conflicting studies, that these hormones cause cancer in humans, because they increase blood levels of IGH-1, an insulin growth factor. Subsequent studies, however, have been unable to verify this link, so no clear scientific link can be established. The worst-case calculation determined that if an infant drank 1.5 liters of milk from a cow treated with rBGH, the amount absorbed would be far less than 1% of the infant’s daily production of IGF-1.
Regarding questions related to the effect of antibiotics on the quality of traditional milk, it is important to know the facts. Cows that are identified as needing antibiotics to control common infections such as mastitis infections are pulled from the herd on a traditional farm and not added back in until they test negative. After the treatment of antibiotics, the body metabolizes and cleans itself very quickly. Several factors can lengthen this like the age and weight of the cows, but overall, the antibiotics are entirely cleared within a couple of weeks. Only then are the cows put back into milk production. On organic dairies, the infected cows are completely removed from the herd if antibiotics are ever used.
Organic cows are mandated to graze for at least 30% of their lives on pastures that have been free of pesticides for at least three years.
Pesticides and fertilizers are generally broken down within six months, depending on environmental factors. This requirement is over-kill but is a guarantee that the consumer will not have to worry about chemical contamination. On traditional dairy farms the cows are moved to pasture when they are drying off for two months, if pasture is available.
Ultimately, whether the consumption of organic milk is a fad, or one based on science, it seems there are arguments for both sides. Purists would say that they enjoy knowing that there is no possibility of chemical contamination or increased risk of cancer. They may also like the idea that dairy cows get to walk around in a field for a significant portion of their lives. The average consumer would say that they have faith in the government regulations that protect them from any potential risks associated with traditional farming. An informed decision really comes down to personal preference.