Dairy Basics: Get to Know Your Milk & Cheese

September 28, 2022

Milk is in just about everyone’s fridge. And cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and ice cream. Especially ice cream. Dairy products are so ubiquitous that it can be easy to take them for granted and not think about where they come from. But let’s take a moment to dig in and get the scoop with some dairy basics we have featured on the podcast. If you still have questions, please speak up!

Shout out to Midwest Dairy for sponsoring the series and helping us line up participants.

Different Ways to Dairy

When I got the chance to tour two different dairy farms, you better believe I jumped at the chance. I always enjoy the chance to compare and contrast, and touring and then sitting down to talk with Anthony & Charlie Coblentz and Logan Courtney. I think like everything, when you are presented with two things, you undoubtedly will see similarities and differences. The physical pieces are easy to catch and various topics were highlighted at each farm as questions were asked.

What was most striking to me, though, was how focused both farms were on making sure their cows were pampered and comfortable. The Coblentz’s black and white Holstein cows like lots of shade and a nice fan to relax under. The Courtney’s Jersey cows prefer to enjoy the great outdoors. One farm milks on a schedule in a traditional milking parlor, the other whenever the girls what to come in and get milked by the milking robot! And those are just a few of the ways their dairy farms differ! But the real thing that brings both farms together is the care they take with their cows. Though they do things differently, the dairy basics are the same. Happy cows make lots of milk!

Dairy and Sustainability Go Hand-in-Hand

Environmental common ground isn’t what everyone expects to find when environmental scientists and farmers sit down together. But maybe we should. The health of our soils, shifting weather patterns and the role of greenhouse gases and more means there is a lot to talk about and work on too.

Some of the cows grazing on the Peterson farm

We talked with Missouri dairy farmer Alex Peterson and Alisha Staggs, a sustainability expert who leads the dairy program with The Nature Conservancy‘s (TNC) North American Agriculture program. TNC is one of the world’s largest and most respected environmental organizations. As it turns out, grazing cows on prairies can have a huge benefit on the landscape, both with manure as a natural fertilizer and having the cows walking across the grasses to gently work the soil. Prairies, with their complicated and extensive root systems can hold as much and sometimes more carbon than trees. According to Alex, this is a win-win-win situation!

And it’s not just dairy that’s getting in on this. Beef ranchers in Missouri are also working with TNC to graze their cattle on the tallgrass prairie as a part of the prairie management plan, eating invasive plants, pushing seeds into the ground with their hooves, and fertilizing with manure. Like Alex’s dairy cows, these beef cattle are helping the prairie build more root mass, improve soil, and capture more water.

Say Cheese! Our Conve with a Cheesemonger!

There are titles that go almost unnoticed, but being a cheesemonger definitely stands out! It took a long time but eventually, I met a cheesemonger. That cheesemonger, Jessica Keahey (founder of Sweet Freedom Cheese in Bentonville, Arkansas), led a virtual meetup and cheese tasting. I was lucky enough to meet her in person when I toured the Coblentz and Courtney dairies, but nothing prepared me for the glorious cheese heaven when I finally made it in person to her cheese shop Sweet Freedom in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I got to try so many cheeses, from the simplicity of a cheddar made with carmelized onions to something seriously adventurous, and I even had to bring some home with me. I learned how to correctly store cheese (hint: NOT in plastic wrap) and the secrets to making a fantastic charcuterie board.

All of that cheese tasting reminded me of our season 2 episode with Farmer Tom in the UK and his Cheese-a-Day Challenge. It’s so great to meet folks who are so passionate about food and love to have fun with it like these do.

Staying Up-to-Date

We love connecting food and farming with a new episode every two weeks. We’ve covered a lot of favorite foods in the past and make it easy for you to find farms in your part of the country with this map. You can subscribe to get emails on future episodes from the website, listen to the podcast in your favorite app and connect with us on social media. In fact, if you find a platform we aren’t on, please let us know so we can add it!

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