Cows have evolved as ruminants, with special stomachs to digest grass, not corn, or soy.
Milk is the foundation of our creative gelato infusions and important both in terms of taste, and healthiness. Jen wanted the best milk possible.
The search was not easy. After a series of discussions with other food makers, our friend Jonathan from Bobolink Dairy led us to a cooperative of farmers 2 hours away from Jersey City in Ronks, PA: Oasis at Bird In Hand. Follow us for a discussion with Dale who manages this amazing dairy initiative.
INTERVIEW with Dale from Oasis at Bird-in-Hand
BORIS: ORGANIC VS 100% GRASS FED MILK, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
Dale: Our grass-fed milk is organic too. But organic milk is not grass-fed. I grew up on a farm. A real farm. In the summer the cows were on meadows, but for most of the year they were kept inside and fed chopped corn, and dried grain. Were our cows grass fed? Yeah. But not all the time. Organic milk, even if labelled as grass-fed usually means the cows graze for 4-5 months only. You have to make sure your milk is 100% grass fed.
The beautiful grass (and flowers) that our grass fed cows eat. No SOY. No CORN.
B: Why are not all cows grass-fed?
D: Because they produce less milk. The food that they eat on the pasture is higher quality and full of nutrients, but it does not stimulate milk production as much. That is why most cows are fed with “high-energy” feeds made out of corn and soy.
B: Why is it important to be 100% grass-fed?
D: The quality of grass-fed milk is much better. Compared to regular milk, 100% grass-fed milk is significantly richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. The butterfat content in our milk is also higher, which is a sign of good milk. It is 4-4.5%, while conventional cows produce more milk, but diluted, with fat content around 3.0%, and significantly lower quality. Butterfat contains Vitamins A & D which help the assimilation of calcium and protein. Without those, the calcium is more difficult to assimilate and possibly even toxic. (Learning #1: 100% Grass fed milk is what milk should be. It is the highest quality milk and it is good for you, but it is also really hard to make)
B: Why do your cows not have black and white spots like most other cows? (Fun observation!)
D: We do not use Holestein cows, which are your popular black and white cows. They are bred to be the highest-production dairy animals is in the world. Modern farming has lots of focus on high production. All the effort in science labs is for higher volume of food, with little care about the nutritional value of this modern food. At Oasis we are concerned about the nutritional value.
We have a mix of “heritage breeds” such as Linebacks and Jersey cows, as well as some mixed breeds. Jersey cows, for example, produce a higher butter fat than most other breeds. They do not give as much milk… so the volume of milk in our herd is not as large as conventional herds. (Learning #2: Most milk in the US is pushed for higher volume production, which decreases the nutritional value of milk)
B: Does 100% grass fed milk taste better?
D: It does. Grass fed milk has a fuller flavor, in particular if it has all its butter fat… and we leave it that way.
But taste is very personal. Some people are used to conventional milk and do not like the 100% grass-fed whole milk. My grandson, who is 5 years old, drinks 100% grass-fed milk every day. He grew up on it. When he tasted one day conventional store bought milk he immediately asked what was wrong with it?
Organic whole milk is usually not full fat milk. It is skimmed, even if it is called “whole milk”.
B: What do you mean? Whole milk is skimmed?
D: The FDA requires whole milk to be 3.5% fat. If the industrial Holsteins produce milk that is 3.6% fat, the producers will skim the extra 0.1% and make butter out of it, as they can still call 3.5% milk whole milk. (Learning #3: You need butterfat to absorb better calcium, but most milk in the US is skimmed )
B: Is your milk pasteurized?
D: Yes. But we do it very gently. Most milk you buy in the store is pasteurized using gigh temperature (UHT) which basically means they take the milk up to 280 F for a short period of time, killing all live cultures.
The result is that the milk lasts longer, 2-3 months, but UHT destroys the nutritional value of the milk and makes it harder to digest. At Oasis we use vat pasteurization, where we heat the milk at the low temperature - 145F - for 30 minutes. Vat pasteurization, takes longer but allows some of the good cultures in the milk to survive, while still eliminating the risk from pathogens. (Learning #4: Milk naturally has good bacteria, unfortunately most milk in the US is over-treated, making it harder to digest and less nutritional )
Our milk is also non-homogenized - so the cream separates and rises to the top. Fat molecules float naturally, forming a cream on the top. So you want to shake it up before serving. Conventional diary bought in the store is “homogenized” - they break up the fat molecules under duress, for convenience sake, so they break down and rearrange the fat proteins in the milk. If you want to eat closer to nature -less processed food- unhomogenized milk is the way to go. And you will enjoy the beauty of some cream on top, that you have to shake up. (Learning #5: Unhomogenized milk is more natural, learn to love the cream that separates, and just shake it)
B: How do cows eat grass in the winter?
D: Our cows are out on the pasture, not kept in confinement. In the winter time, only when the weather is really really bad, they are kept in the barns to shield them from the storms. The cows live in harmony with nature.
During the winter we supplement their diet with hay that we make on our farms. Our farms are farmed with horses, which is an important consideration in regards to the carbon footprint, which is very very minimal.
Here is who makes the winter snack for the pretty 100% grass-fed cows! With a green carbon footprint.
B: When was the cooperative started?
D: The creamery started in July 2012… The farmers made milk before that and were shipping it to other diaries. But as a cooperative, they can now receive the recognition for creating real food and educate about its benefits.