by Constance Breese
I wish shopping for milk was more like shopping for wine or coffee. If we can choose Columbian or Jamaican coffee, wine from Napa or Sonoma, why not more milk choices? I want to have options like Jersey cow whole milk (Vermont style) or milk from a Guernsey, which is a golden color because it’s rich in beta-carotenes. Different breeds of cows produce very different milks. Jerseys, the small brown doe-eyed cows, give milk that is five to six percent butterfat.
Typically, our thoughts about milk are just as homogenized as the milk most of us drink. We tend to think milk is all the same. The grocery stores rarely offer anything but cows’ milk, homogenized and pasteurized. Milk is always the same predictable white beverage. This is in contrast to when cheese making is the object of the dairy operation. You want the influence of the pasture. The bland, grain diet that most dairy cows are fed does not produce the extra flavor of the grassy pasture. Volatile substances and oils from pasture plants enter the milk and cheese and give added aroma and flavor.
How milk is made in the animal will always amaze me. I’ll focus on dairy cows since they really are anatomically designed for milk production. A cow’s udder contains a large number of tiny milk-producing cells. As the milk is made it travels through a system of ducts or tubes. The milk in a cow’s udder then collects in the large storage compartments of the udder called cisterns. These unique storage compartments in the udder make it possible for cows to fill up with milk and hold it for hours between milkings. Cows are usually milked twice daily. Just ahead of a cow’s udder is an enormous vein, the milk vein. This vein on a cow is like no other. It is on the underside of the cow, just under the skin. It is gigantic and very close to the surface of the body. The bigger the milk vein, the more milk a cow is likely to produce.
Cows have low hanging, suspended udders with twice as many teats (also called milk spigots) as sheep and goats. Each animal’s udder is unique. When I worked in a milking parlor, the cow’s udders were right at eye level. By the end of two weeks I knew all the cows, not by name or number or markings, but by their udders. Identification was easy: some cows had shorter teats, some longer, and a few cows had extra teats.
Sheep udders are not well evolved for milking. The teats are very short and stick out to the side. Goats have udders more like cows in that they hang low and have longer teats. Milking by hand or machine is easier when the teats are longer.
Typically these goat and sheep dairy items come in the form of cheeses and yogurts, but if you look around and find other products, like a goat’s milk fudge, you can taste the creaminess and varieties in flavor, qualities that arise from the uniqueness of each animal and what it is eating. And I am in favor of that.