Last week, the milk from our herd share (the only legal means by which Michiganders may acquire raw milk) tasted a bit off. There was a faint, almost cheesy smell to it which became stronger as the milk aged. I pitched the last quarter-gallon into the compost, even, because it just didn’t seem right.
Today, we cracked the first half-gallon of this week’s milk, and the cheesy smell and taste were almost stomach-turning for me. My mother-in-law didn’t notice it, my father-in-law said he could detect it, and The Engineir said he really noticed it. I couldn’t finish my glass.
The vanilla ice cream I made this morning even had a faint taste of cheese. Concerned, I sat down to send out an email to the other members of our herd share to see if it was something they had noticed. When I opened my email, an inquiry from another family was there:
“We were just wondering–have you noticed your milk smelling more
strong these past 2 weeks? Ours seems to have a sharp, almost cheese
kind of smell to it and we’re wondering if it is just us or not. We
may just need to give our jars a good cleaning in hydrogen peroxide to
strip them of soap build up. But, before I go through the hassle of
that, I wanted to know if anyone else is experiencing the same?”
With the knowledge that it wasn’t just us, I called our milk producer. Yes, on a Sunday at 6:30pm. When dealing with raw milk that seems off, better safe than sorry, man; I am aware there are minor risks associated with raw milk, and I wanted to know what was going on.
The woman who runs the farm had a perfectly valid explanation – they had switched the cows’ feed about two weeks ago, when the problem began. Ordinarily, these cows never see dry hay, but they had reached the bottom of their silo, and dry hay was all that was available until the pastures were ready. That, coupled with many of the cows drying up for the season, resulted in an extremely high butterfat content in the milk (over 7%, compared with their normal 3%,) and a powerful taste and smell as the cows’ gut bacteria adjusted to the new feed.
Starting tomorrow, our cows will be put back on spring pasture, so the issue will abate. The cheesy flavor will be replaced with grassy notes for a week, and then everything will even back out.
I tell you what, though; how cool is it to be able to call up the farmer and ask, “hey, what the heck is going on with the milk right now?” as opposed to taking it back to a store where the clerk of course doesn’t know and very likely doesn’t care, and just gives you your money back. Pretty damned cool.
This is one of many reasons why shopping locally from people in your community is a wonderful thing; you develop a relationship with your vendors, and if there is a problem, you know they’re going to care about it on a personal level. Our dairy farmer has a vested interest in keeping her shareholders happy, because we can call her up on a Sunday evening at 6:30pm if there’s even a shadow of a doubt about her product.
Before we signed onto our current herd program, she gave me a tour of her farm, walked me out through the pastures, talked to me about their 100% dedication to organic, quality milk, and told me about the farm’s history. I met some of the cows. Her dog knows and loves me because I will throw the stick for her the entire time I’m there when it’s my turn to do the weekly delivery.
Our meat provider, Creswick Farms, is equally accessible, and happy to answer questions or concerns. They know us, and we them; we have faith and trust in their products.
Sure, a responsible dairy company such as Horizon might give lip service to a problem and throw some coupons my way, but in all likelihood they wouldn’t really care or make changes based on my feedback.
For now, we have three gallons of cheesy milk; I suppose this is as good a week as any to try my hand at making hard cheeses, since they wouldn’t be detracted from by cheesy milk. I recently obtained the GNOWFGLINS cheesemaking kit, so I have everything on-hand already.
For the yogurt and kefir I’ve already started culturing, I can add flavors to disguise any cheesy taste left behind.
Kind of funny that a problem like this could make me feel even better about our herd share program, but it does.