Within the category of dairy lies a list of alluring foods derived from milk, ranging from butter to cheeses to yogurt and cream. We generally consume dairy products produced from cow’s milk, but alternatives like sheep, goat, and even camel’s milk are growing in popularity.
Despite years of bad press for having a high saturated fat content, recent studies suggest there is a lack of evidence linking conditions like heart disease to whole-fat dairy. There are 16 essential nutrients in milk, including high levels of bone and muscle builders like calcium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and folate. Dairy produced from grass-fed cows are said to have a healthier balance of fatty acids and higher value of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that protects against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and breast and colorectal cancers.
Approximately 75% of the world experiences lactose intolerance in adulthood, commonly affecting high percentages of populations in South America, Africa, and Asia.
Individuals who experience difficulty digesting cow’s milk can sometimes consume sheep or goat milk products with little to no complications. Lactose intolerance is not to be confused with a milk allergy, a condition increasing in prevalence over the past few decades, especially in children.
Unlike lactose intolerance, which can cause symptoms of digestive discomfort, a milk allergy triggers anaphylaxis, causing symptoms like hives or rashes and in severe circumstances, it can even be fatal.
While adults can achieve a balanced diet without consuming milk, some forms of dairy can be great additions to our meals: Fermented yogurts and kefirs can be a source of live, beneficial bacteria, and fermentation makes dairy easier to digest and more nutritious. Look for organic whole milk yogurt with labels that state "unpasteurized" or "with live cultures."
It’s no secret that the large-scale commercial production of dairy leads to the production of greenhouse gases. Volatile organic compounds coming off the feed piles, plumes of ammonia rising up from manure lagoons, and waterways becoming contaminated with nitrogen and phosphorus runoff shed a different light on the efficiencies and low prices industrial-scale dairy production offers.
If you add in animal welfare concerns, small-scale dairy production starts to look better on every front.
There is a way to maximize dairy farming operations while lowering impact.
Locally, Frank Konyn Dairy, the city’s last dairy farm, has been implementing sustainable practices, such as manure management. The city and county’s renewed interest in promoting sustainable agriculture models in the San Pasqual Valley would benefit from the example set by Marin County.
So far, the Marin Carbon Project has helped to develop and implement carbon farm plans for over a dozen farms, including large-scale commercial producer of organic dairy Straus Family Creamery. The project hopes to have carbon farm plans in action for 20 farms by 2020.
LOCAL CONNECTIONS AND RESOURCES
There are currently only two commercial dairy farmers in the county: the previously mentioned Frank Konyn Dairy in the San Pasqual Valley, and TD Dairy in Ramona.
With roughly 1,500 milking cows between the two of them, both dairies are part of California Dairies, Inc. (CDI), a co-op of 400 California dairies that produce 43% of the state’s milk and 9% of the milk supply nationwide. CDI milk is primarily processed into butter and powders.
The butter is often sold by brands like Challenge and Danish, or used in store brands like Kirkland for Costco and Trader Joe’s. Nestle uses the milk powder for infant formula. And some of the milk goes into cheese.
Speaking of cheese, if you’re an aspiring cheesemaker, find all the supplies you need at Curds and Wine, a local cheese and winemaking shop on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. You could also join a cheesemaking club, like Queso Diego. Otherwise, the California Cheese Trail offers great incentive for a cheese-inspired vacation, listing over 70 California cheesemakers that can be toured from Crescent City to Los Angeles.
For delectable, high-end cheeses of the extraordinary variety, you must go to any one (or all) of the four Venissimo Cheese locations in San Diego. Small Goods, a local farmers’ market vendor, is also noteworthy for creamy sheep’s milk fetas.
For an incredible locally made Greek yogurt, keep an eye out for Yallitizer’s at local farmers’ markets.
And, if by chance you’re looking for camel’s milk, check out the Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona.