"This is the best milk on the planet!" That's how one of my customers describes my milk.
Most of my customers are initially surprised at just how incredibly good the milk from my farm tastes. The evidence for the health benefits of grass-fed raw milk over conventional pasteurized milk is pretty strong, but how do you produce really tasty grass-fed raw milk - so good, people refer to it as, "the best milk on the planet"?
This is something I have spent countless hours understanding and fine tuning over the last several years. Since I don't use a bulk tank and instead keep each cow's milk separately, I have a unique (and fun!) opportunity to thoroughly experiment with and understand flavor nuances.
The "wow" factor in raw milk is the flavor of the sweetness of LIFE. Getting it requires capturing all the flavor of things life-giving and none of the flavor of things life-detracting. It's not an accident of Nature that the most nutritious things taste the best. It's fundamental to her operating.
Consistently producing "wow" milk requires dedication and diligence. There are many things that all have to fall into place, but here are the ones that I put the most effort into:
1) I keep my bacteria counts very low. Low bacteria count milk just tastes better! Wet udders and contaminated, degraded, or wet equipment are the biggest reason for high bacteria counts. I go to great lengths to make sure my cows are clean at all times. That way, there is not much to clean up at milking time. I only milk cows with udders that are clean, clean, clean and dry,dry, dry. Also, my equipment is never cleaned with chemicals and while assembled. Chemical cleaning can leave residues if not rinsed thoroughly and it breaks down the rubber, creating rough surfaces where bacteria can accumulate. Instead, I disassemble, scrub with detergent-free soap, triple rinse, and completely air dry all equipment in between each milking.
2) I get the protein right. The level of protein in the diet has a huge effect on milk flavor. Protein makes the milk taste sweet, but too much of it and the milk becomes grassy, or even chemical tasting if the cow is pushed toward ketosis. Too little protein, although more rare, can make the milk taste "cheesey". I had this problem with one cow who does not utilize protein well. With little protein, the membranes around the fat globules are weak, which allows enzymes to break down the fat within a day or two after milking. I use tall grass grazing with free choice at milking time of alfalfa hay and molasses. That way the cow can balance her own macro nutrients according to pasture conditions.
3) I keep my somatic cell counts low. High SCC, even without full-blown mastitis, makes the milk taste "milky", bitter or salty. To keep the counts low, I do the following:
- I only milk dry udders
- I use frequent pasture rotations and fresh winter bedding for a clean living environment
- I have a great free-choice mineral program, so the cows are abundantly healthy
4) I handle the milk gently and cool it quickly. I have set up a system where the milk never travels through more than 3 feet of tubing, never goes around corners which causes turbulence, and is never shaken or stirred during cooling. Even more importantly the milk is cooled to below 38° in less than 15 minutes from the start of cooling. Rapidly cooled milk tastes fantastic and protecting the fat membranes with gentle handling prevents the milk from turning sour or cheesey too quickly.
5) I keep the milking area free of strong odors. There is no manure in my barn, nor do I use any fly spray in it. Odors can travel from the lungs, through the blood, and to the milk within minutes, and odors always affect the flavor.
These are the things that I think contribute the most to producing really awesome flavor.