Friday, November 21, 2014

Are cows really happier in California?

California is the land of happy cows. If you believe the marketing happy cows make great milk. I spent a few years in San Francisco and I can attest the California coast is beautiful and bucolic. Is that was makes great milk and subsequently great cheese?

One thing I noticed was that most of the California produced cheeses were far less creamy then Wisconsin cheeses. There are some notable exceptions. There are some great cheese makers in California, who go to great lengths to get the very best milk available. The best cheeses were made from morning milk because that milk has higher fat content then evening milk, thus you make more creamy rich cheese with it.

Cows also produce less milk during the warm summer months. The weather has an effect on the fat content of the milk produced by the season; summer milk is less plentiful and has a lower fat content then winter milk. While this might sound like a boon to the weight-conscious among us, a lower fat content is not ideal for making high quality cheese.

In California, the land of perpetual summer, what does this do to the cows' milk production? It's natural in Wisconsin that people put on some extra pounds around the holidays to help keep a bit warmer (at least that's what I tell myself.) This natural accumulation of fat is seen in nature as well. The origin of foie gras is from discovering fatty livers in geese in the fall when they have been working on storing extra calories for migration and survival during the cold winter months. Bears add a lot of extra poundage for hibernation, as do squirrels, rabbits etc.

In the winter time it is natural for momma cow to produce more rich milk to fatten up baby to survive the long winter! Thus we get richer more tasty milk and cheese from winter milk! Poor California doesn't have a real winter :(. At least they don't have one like we do in Wisconsin!

There are plenty of other aspects which have been discussed in other forums about the true "happiness" of California cows. They are basically being raised in a desert, entirely on grain without pasture or grazing, this gives us monotonous and low quality flavors. With the drought heavily effecting California in the last few years, the dairy industry in California may become less viable. It's true, coastal dairies have the ability to graze animals in the abundant green grass, however as most of the milk in California is produced in the arid central valley where land costs a millionth as much as it does on the coast, this "high end" milk is rare and hard to find in California.

On the other hand, the Wisconsin Dairy Industry survives on hay, grazing, grain supplements, and more then 15,000 lakes. This gives the cows' diet a lot more diversity and in turn makes the milk not only tastier, but healthier with more Omega 3 fatty acids and up to 5x as much conjugated linoleic acid, a protective fatty acid, then grain fed cows.

Even if California has happier cows, we have better milk. But as the old saying doesn't go, the proof is in the fondue.


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