Before we start this post, please take a minute to look at this video about Country Valley milk and how John Fairley is turning his farm into one large living organism.
Can you guess what the difference between the two types of butter in the photo is? I asked that question on The Food Blog’s facebook page and one of my readers commented that “one has colour added”. Though it made me chuckle a bit, it was a fair comment; since we hardly see butter with such a deep yellow color, one can assume that the butter has somehow been messed with.
In fact, both butters are completely unadulterated and are handmade butters given to me by my favourite butter man, Pepe Saya. The butter on the left is Pepe’s famous cultured butter. The other one is an experiment he did with cream sourced from a commercially available milk. Pepe’s usual milk comes from Country Valley, a local dairy based in Picton. The cream he receives from Country Valley has a rich yellow colour similar to what you see in the photo. However, when Pepe looked at the commercial cream, he saw a pasty-white cream so different from what he was used to seeing from Country Valley. A bit of digging around and the reason for the lack of colour became obvious. As opposed to Country Valley cream which comes from 100% grass-fed cows, the commercial cream comes from grain-fed cows. Grass-fed cream is pigmented by beta-carotene, an anti-oxidant and a pre-cursor for vitamin A. Grain-fed cows get no beta-carotene in their diet (beta-carotene is contained in grass).
To make a fair comparison, Pepe made both butters in the exact same way. He added cultures to the two batches of cream until they became sour, and then churned them into butter. We tried both the cream and the butter, and differences more than just colour were obvious. Where the grass-fed butter tasted complex (I swear you can taste the pasturelands), the grain-fed butter fell flat. There was little flavour, with almost a synthetic taste and an odd mouthfeel.
Grass-fed dairy is far superior to grain-fed dairy. Here’s a list of why I think you should always go for grass-fed dairy:
- It tastes better
- It’s so much better for health
- You will be supporting real farmers, ones interested in the health and sustainability of their land, just like we saw in the video link above.
- You will be discouraging feed lots, inhumane practices and mass production
- You will be paying more for milk. That sounds like a bad thing, but milk should never cost $1. Real food costs real money and if you buy from farmers markets, more money will be going to the producer.
- Cows and other herbivores are fantastic at transforming solar energy into food. The cycle is simple: sun > grass > milk. Grain feeding changes this cycle: Fossil fuels > chemical fertilisers> grains > milk (and arid land). The importance of grass-feeding is paramount to future sustainability and supply of food.
- Grass-fed cows are healthier than grain-fed cows. Cows can not digest grains well and it makes them sick.
- Sick, grain-fed cows require much more medication and antibiotics which make their way to the milk (and meat).
There are great grass-fed products on the market that you should be going for when choosing your dairy products. I personally buy Country Valley milk. In supermarkets you can find Parmalat unhomogenised organic milk (which the producer has told me is around 95% grass-fed with a 5% supplement of hay and organic, non-genetically modified grain). Do remember that organic does not mean grass-fed since you can still feed cows 100% organic grains and hay and they might never see a blade of grass. Also, I’ve noticed that the Macro organic milk at Woolworth’s contains ultra-heat treated milk, which I personally avoid.
What brand of milk do you buy and why? Can you share what the deciding factor for you when it comes to choosing dairy products is? Can you think of other reasons why grass-feeding is better than grain-feeding? Or do you perhaps you believe grain-feeding is a better alternative? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know.