When’s the last time you really thought about the milk you pour?
Ask people what kind of milk they buy, and you will rarely receive a one-word answer. It will often involve a wistful, complicated explanation. Households often stock two or more types, one for pouring over cereal and coffee, another for cooking.
Now that the FDA may be cracking down on misuse of the word for non-dairy beverages, the battle for your milk allegiance will only intensify. The studies, hype and nutritional claims swirling about milk will be flying fast and furious.
Milk needs are fluid, changing over time. And while milk arguably remains the supreme cookie-dunking medium, it’s important to remember that it’s also precious nourishment that comes only from the glands of female mammals that have given birth.
Milk deserves respect, especially in Wisconsin where it’s part of our culture.
Innovations have resulted in expanded milk choices thanks to nutritional, environmental, technological, animal welfare, economical and governmental factors. There’s a lot to consider in what may have become a routine weekly purchase, or something you’ve purposely snubbed.
To clarify, milk here means unflavored cow’s milk.
What’s also clear is that milk sales have dramatically dropped over the past several years. Yet despite milk’s recent gloomy past, some dairy stars are emerging in the new milky way.
Whole milk rising to the top
For starters, now that the fat-phobic food phase has passed, consumers are returning to full-fat dairy. Sales of whole milk, along with grass-fed milk, are rising. At the same time, A2 milk has only just begun to state its case in Wisconsin; more on that later.
“It was just in this past quarter that whole milk sales exceeded sales of 2% milk (which has historically had the greatest share), though it should be noted that the share of whole milk sold at retail (41.3%) is still lower than the share of reduced-fat milk (58.6%) as reduced-fat includes both 1% and 2%,” said Jen Walsh of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, formerly known as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
In the first quarter of this year, whole milk sales jumped 3% for a volume share exceeding 37%. In contrast, skim milk plummeted 11.4%, according to figures supplied by Walsh. Both 2% and 1% sales also fell, but not as dramatically as skim.
For decades, fearful of the role of dairy fat in heart disease, governmental dietary guidelines recommended Americans steer clear of whole milk. However, new research is questioning this advice, and some are now dismissing it as misguided dietary dogma.
Most whole milk is not left intact as the name would imply; it retains its fat but only after undergoing centrifugal separation and homogenization at 3.25% to 3.5% milkfat. Some purists believe it’s the homogenization, rather than the pasteurization, that significantly degrades modern milk.
Recipes usually call for whole milk due to its creamy taste and texture, though it contains only about 10 additional calories per cup over 2%.
Grass-fed is greener
Figures also show a dramatic increase in grass-fed milk sales, increasing its volume share of all milk gallons sold so far this year by 31%, even though less than 1% of total milk sales is grass-fed. Still in just five years, grass-fed sales more than quadrupled to over 2 million gallons in 2017, with this year on pace to exceed that.
Let the buyer beware with “grass-fed,” as there is no governmental standard for the term. The American Grassfed Association upholds its own certification requirements. It requires that dairy cows eat nothing but grass and forage from weaning to harvest on family farm pastures, without crowded confinements, antibiotics or growth hormones.
Grass-fed milk is relatively expensive; ask questions of your milk producer or check its website to see how open their process is. And it doesn’t necessarily mean the cows are exclusively fed grass.
Organic Valley, based in La Farge, confirms recent milk trends. The coop’s organic whole milk is its biggest seller, with its 100% grass-fed milk called Grassmilk now its fastest growing line.
“Whole milk continues stronger than low-fat and skim said Lewis Goldstein, vice president of Brand Marketing at Organic Valley. “Organic, 100% grass-fed is showing huge growth, the single biggest story in dairy right now.” One version of Grassmilk called Cream On Top comes non-homogenized and minimally pasteurized.
Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus also has witnessed a noticeable swing in milk tastes in just the past few years. While 2% is still its top seller, whole milk is closing the gap.
“When we started bottling 10 years ago, skim and 2% milk were our top sellers; now there is a definite shift back to whole milk,” said James Baerwolf, a third-generation farmer who owns the family creamery with his brother Robert and their families. “We think people want food that is less processed, and we think whole cow’s milk is the answer. There is also a lot of new research out now that supports whole-fat dairy products are the best for overall health.”
Sassy Cow Creamery follows an uncommon business model, even for the Dairy State.
“It is a very unique situation for us to have our own farm and creamery,” Baerwolf explained. “There are very few creameries similar to us in the state. It is even more unique that we have both an organic and traditional herd and that we bottle both lines separately at the creamery.”
Both Sassy Cow and Organic Valley milk received high ratings from the Cornucopia Institute, a consumer watchdog group that researches organic food.
“There are many organic milks on the market now, so we think it’s very important for people to know exactly where their milk is coming from and to be able see the entire process,” Baerwolf said.
A2 milk shake-up?
A relative newcomer in the dairy aisle is A2 milk, an option some are predicting will shake up the industry, even though most consumers probably know little about it. It’s also called A1 beta-casein-free milk.
Before domestication, cows carried just the A2 protein. Years ago, a cell mutation followed by breeding practices produced the A1 protein in cows. Although some cows now carry both proteins, modern practices have essentially bred out the A2 protein in some breeds.
Except for these modern cows, all mammals including humans produce only A2 milk. Proponents are calling A2 the original milk.
Small-scale research and anecdotal evidence claim it’s the A1 protein that causes digestive and allergic issues that have soured some on milk.
In particular, heavy-producing Holsteins are known to carry both proteins. Breeds such as Guernseys, Jerseys and Brown Swiss still largely produce only A2.
If you’ve been consuming milk from a small herd of these A2 breeds, you may already be using A2 milk. Simple genetic testing exists for farmers to know for sure, but some don’t want the expense and bother of testing each cow.
New Zealand’s a2 Milk Company’s version can be found at select Meijer Supermarkets, Outpost Natural Foods and Good Harvest Market, according to the a2 Milk Co. website.
A local, organic option called Clover Meadows Grassfed is also available. Clover Meadows milk is raised from a small herd and bottled on a family farm near Athens. The cows are 100% grass-fed raised on pasture and tested to be exclusively A2.
Uncertified but organic Clover Meadows milk is non-homogenized and uses low-heat pasteurization in contrast with much of the milk that is ultra-pasteurized using high heat. Find it at Good Harvest Market, Outpost Natural Foods, Beans & Barley, Health Hut, Stone Bank Farm Market, Slow Pokes Local Food, The Organic Market and other specialty grocers in Wisconsin.
Jennifer Rude Klett is a Wisconsin freelance writer of history, food, and Midwestern life. Contact her at jrudeklett.com.
To help you find your best milk for everything from dunking to cooking, here are the choices:
Whole: This milk is usually homogenized to a milk fat content of 3.25% to 3.5% and is the standard milk used in recipes. Whole milk sales surpassed 2% for the first time in the first quarter of this year, as some consumers are returning to full-fat dairy products.
Reduced-fat: This includes 2% and 1%, which reflect their homogenized milkfat content. Like whole milk, reduced-fat milk can be fortified with vitamins, minerals and protein.
Skim: Also called fat-free or nonfat. Skim contains no milkfat and the most lactose, as lactose typically rises when fat falls. Skim will tend to curdle more than other milks in cooking.
Grass-fed: While the grass-fed term is unregulated by the government, this milk is an area of growth as consumers become increasingly concerned with the ethical treatment of cows and awareness grows of the enhanced soil health from pastured animals.
Grass-fed also offers nutritional benefits including higher omega-3 fatty acids. Note, the term may mean different things to different producers; grass-fed does not mean the cows were exclusively fed grass (their natural food) and not supplemented with grain. Not all grass-fed milk is homogenized.
This milk can lend a grassy note and richer color when used in cooking.
Organic: As with grass-fed, let the buyer beware. Certified organic milk doesn’t necessarily mean cows were solely raised on grassy, sunny pastures on small farms with mom cows raising their young.
Controversy is intensifying over alleged shortcuts by so-called Big Dairy that does not operate within the spirit or laws governing organics. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic seal is only as good as the agency backing it up.
Organic milk typically costs more than non-organic, and if it doesn’t adhere to standards or pass transparency muster, is it worth the premium price?
Lowest in a report from the consumer watchdog Cornucopia Institute, receiving a one- and zero-cow ratings for organic milk, were most big brands, including Horizon, Target’s Simply Balanced, Kroger’s Simple Truth, Trader Joe’s, Hormel’s Applegate Farms, Kemp’s Dairy, Wal-Mart’s Great Value, Costco’s Kirkland Signature and Aldi’s Friendly Farms.
A2: Becoming available only recently, A2 milk is also called heritage milk or the original milk coming from old-line breeds that produce just the A2 protein. Some A2 enthusiasts predict it will change the industry, as initial research indicates that it does not cause many of the allergic and digestive issues found with much of the modern milk containing the A1 protein. All other mammals including humans produce only A2 milk. Not all A2 milk is homogenized.
Lactose-reduced or -free: Lactose is a sugar found in milk. While lactose-reduced or -free milk represents only a small percentage of the milk share, it grew nearly 30% in the last three years. Non-white, non-Hispanic households are more likely to purchase lactose-free milk.
Ultra-filtered: This milk removes some of the natural sugars and all of the lactose, then adds protein, calcium or other nutrients.
Raw: Raw is pure milk straight from the cow. It is unpasteurized and non-homogenized.
Drinking or cooking with raw milk is legal in all 50 states. It’s the laws concerning the sale of raw milk that get complicated.
In 1987, the FDA mandated pasteurization of all milk and made illegal any transport of raw milk across state lines. Wisconsin law allows “incidental sales” to consumers directly from the farm where it is produced, as long as it’s not a “regular” business or it involves advertising of any kind, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Farmers can consume their own cow’s raw milk, and farm employees can buy it for their personal consumption.
In Wisconsin, raw milk is illegal to sell in retail stores. A hodgepodge of laws exist in the other 49 states: 29 allow some form of selling, with 20 states prohibiting all raw milk sales as of 2016, according to ProCon.org. Heating raw milk when cooking or baking often effectively pasteurizes it.
Do not reach for the box! Instead, try this no-oven, no-strain, true one-pot recipe for Summer Stovetop Mac & Cheese when you crave a bowl of melted cheesy comfort without much fuss. Recipe adapted from gimmesomeoven.com.
Summer Stovetop Mac & Cheese
Recipe tested by Jennifer Rude Klett
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups water
4 cups whole milk
1 pound macaroni
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground mustard (optional)
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups mozzarella or Gouda cheese, shredded
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
In a stockpot or large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute, whisking occasionally. Whisk in 1 cup of the water until mixture is smooth and begins to thicken. Gradually whisk in remaining water and milk until evenly combined. Stir in macaroni, salt, garlic powder and mustard (if using). Stir occasionally until mixture just reaches a simmer. Reduce heat to just maintain the simmer. Cook 8 to 9 minutes or until desired doneness.
Remove from heat and stir in all the cheeses. To serve, garnish with fresh parsley and more Parmesan or pepper if desired.
Ever glimpse photos of razor-thin scalloped potatoes arranged in a pretty concentric circle browned to perfection? Well, Grilled Scalloped Spuds is not that recipe, but it’s just as good.
These tubers are the relaxed backyard version to accompany brats, steaks or whatever else you’re grilling with minimal cleanup if you use a disposable aluminum pan. Leave peels intact on half or more of the potatoes for added visual interest and nutrition.
Grilled Scalloped Spuds
Recipe tested by Jennifer Rude Klett
Makes 6 servings
8 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced, leave peels on about half
1 tablespoon fresh onion, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
Whole milk to cover potatoes (about 3 cups)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 to 4 sprigs of parsley leaves, minced
In a disposable 10-inch-square aluminum pan with at least 2 ½-inch sides, add half the sliced potatoes. Salt and pepper potatoes in pan, then add half the butter in dabs. Sprinkle onion over potatoes. Repeat layer with other half of potatoes, salt, pepper and butter. Slowly pour in milk, salt and pepper again, then top with grated cheese and parsley. Cover tightly with foil but poke 10 holes in top for venting. Grill over medium indirect heat 45 minutes or until tender.
Almond extract provides a handy flavor and aroma boost without scrambling for almond paste or filling in this buttery Scandinavian cake (Norwegians are fond of almonds and fresh berries, too, in desserts).
No fancy pan needed, thereby averting the remove-from-pan-disasters that can happen with these specialty cakes. Of course, if this becomes your “Swedish chef” signature dessert, invest in and conquer the pretty fluted pan, by all means. The recipe is adapted from idiotskitchen.com.
Scandinavian Almond Cake with Fresh Berries & Cream
Recipe tested by Jennifer Rude Klett
Makes 8 slices
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
⅔ cup whole milk
1 ¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
Fresh seasonal fruit
Unsweetened whipped cream
In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat; set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment paper, then butter again.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, egg, extracts and milk. Stir in flour and baking powder to combine. Add cooled butter and mix until lump-free.
Spread sliced almonds in bottom of cake pan, then pour batter over almonds. Bake in preheated oven 40 to 45 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert onto platter. Serve with fruit and whipped cream.
Milk-braised pork with sage uses an Italian cooking method that enhances the tenderness of pork. Be sure to initially brown the roast well, as that enhances the flavor and color of the rustic braising sauce.
Milk-Braised Pork with Sage
Recipe tested by Jennifer Rude Klett
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds pork loin or shoulder roast, trimmed of fat
Salt and pepper to taste
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 ½ to 4 cups whole milk
2 sprigs sage leaves, chopped
Juice and zest from ½ lemon
Bring olive oil to medium high heat in an electric skillet or large sauté pan.
Add pork roast to pan and brown well on all sides. Salt and pepper roast to taste. Add garlic until it blooms but not browns, about 30 seconds. Add 3 ½ cups milk, the sage, lemon juice and zest; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 2 hours. Keep an eye on the liquid level every half hour, adding a little milk if needed while simmering to avoid over-reducing the sauce. Slice roast and plate over a bed of potatoes, polenta or orzo. To serve, spoon braising sauce over meat.
By: Jennifer Rude Klett
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel