Working with Farmers, Dairy Processors and Chefs to Build a Market for Grass-Fed Milk

Final Report for LNC08-303

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $148,133.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Laura Paine
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Project Information


This study explores the physical, chemical and culinary differences between dairy products from the milk of pastured cows versus those made with milk from conventionally fed cows. Based on prior research and the experience of several successful pasture-based dairy marketers, we know that there are significant differences in flavor, texture, appearance, and culinary performance in these products. The pasture-based dairy products have a yellower color, a softer, creamier texture, and a flavor and aroma that has been described as ‘complex’. This study has taken a broad, ‘supply-chain’ approach to investigating these unique chemical and physical qualities. Over the last four years, our team of farmers, processors, chefs, and food, dairy, and plant science researchers compared side-by-side, products made from pasture milk versus conventional milk, documented the differences we found and explored their potential in the marketplace. Key research activities included: Three years of research by chefs and University of Wisconsin scientists on the chemistry and culinary performance of grass-based products, a series of interviews with grass-based dairy marketing startups, summarized in a publication titled: Grass-based Dairy Products: Challenges and Opportunities (2009), consumer taste panels conducted by UW Food Science, two informal ‘tasting sessions’ with self-selected grass-dairy enthusiasts, a professional focus group conducted by AdyVoltedge Marketing Consultancy, a market research report created as part of this project (Caplan, 2009), and a “Discovery Session” that brought together a group of 25 individuals from across the specialty dairy supply chain for a discussion on how to move the industry forward. This report summarizes our results and recommendations for building a pasture-based dairy market.


The North Central region of the United States has long had a strong dairy industry and is still home to seven of the top 10 states in numbers of dairy farmers. In today’s global marketplace, the dairy industry in this region has struggled to compete with other regions that have advantages in high volume milk production. A good strategy for this region may be to capitalize on our strengths in value-added artisan products and grass-based dairy.

A cow on pasture has become a rare thing in the American dairy industry. The vast majority of dairy cattle in the United States never see the outdoors while they’re lactating. Over 50% of the milk produced in the US comes from confinement farms with more than 1000 cows. All of this milk is produced on a total of just 1750 farms, primarily in California, Idaho, New Mexico, and Texas (Census of Agriculture).

In contrast, about 22% or more than 3000 of Wisconsin’s roughly 11,000 dairy farmers use managed grazing as their system for providing the bulk of feed for their cattle (Paine and Gildersleeve). In terms of environmental performance and profitability, these farms can excel. And as a number of farmstead processors have found, the milk from pastured cows is different from what we’ve come to consider ‘conventional’ milk.

Can the unique features of this milk contribute to the resurgence of an artisan dairy tradition focused on high-value, specialty products? The existence of several companies in the region that are successfully marketing grass-based products suggests that this is a good opportunity. One key to supporting growth in this sector is to identify the unique properties of the milk from pasture fed cows and explore the potential of developing premium products from this milk, which we will refer to as ‘pasture milk’ throughout the report (as compared to ‘conventional’ milk from confinement-fed cattle).

Wisconsin has a tradition of artisan, value-added dairy production. As a national leader in specialty cheese, producing 48% of the specialty cheeses in the U.S., it makes sense to build on this foundation. Our longstanding pasture-based family farming tradition and existing relatively small scale, regional dairy processing expertise and infrastructure can support this goal.

Preliminary research by Dr. Scott Rankin in 2005 showed that pasture milk produces cheddar cheese that has a creamier texture and a natural golden color that was preferred over cheese from confinement-fed cows in consumer taste testing. This project seeks to build on these initial results. We brought together pasture dairy farmers, processors, chefs, and researchers to take a broad, value-chain approach to explore this opportunity. Guided by this team, we have conducted a comprehensive investigation of the chemical and physical properties of this unique milk when made into cheese, butter, or other products. In addition, we explored the marketing and positioning of such products, conducting focus group discussions and consumer taste testing to assess consumer demand.

One thing we did not focus on was the so-called ‘healthy fats’ that have been associated with pasture based meat and dairy products. Recent research on these fats (conjugated linoleic acid or ‘CLA’ and omega 3 fatty acids) has shown health benefits from their inclusion in the diet. Several studies have shown that milk and meat from animals grazed on fresh pasture have higher levels of these fats than those on a stored feed diet that is high in grain. This could be a positive feature of pasture-based dairy products if the research eventually confirms a link between consuming pasture based dairy products and healthy outcomes in humans (this has not yet happened). In the meantime, we feel that the flavor, color, and texture of milk from pastured cows have great value in the production of artisan products and in the long run, will have a greater ‘staying power’ in the marketplace. Thus, we focused our research on understanding the qualities of this special milk.

Project Objectives:

Project Objectives: The overall goals of the project were to develop 1) a definitive understanding of the unique physical, chemical, and flavor qualities of grass-fed milk and 2) an ability to manage seasonal changes in pasture milk flavor and physical properties to improve processing quality. Over the long term, we seek to create 1) an increased awareness among dairy processors of the opportunities and appropriate uses for pasture milk and 2) a strategy for establishment of a premium market for pasture milk products.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Ken Albrecht
  • Leah Caplan
  • Dr. David Combs
  • Mike Gingrich
  • Jack Kaestner
  • Jack Kaestner
  • Bert Paris
  • Dr. Scott Rankin
  • Bob Wills
  • Steve Young-Burns


Materials and methods:
Research Activities

This document summarizes results and analyses of four years of research investigating the challenges and opportunities of a pasture-based dairy market. Key research activities included:
• Three years of research by chefs and University of Wisconsin scientists on the chemistry and culinary performance of grass-based products.
• A series of interviews with grass-based dairy marketing startups, summarized in a publication titled: Grass-based Dairy Products: Challenges and Opportunities (2009).
• Consumer taste panels conducted by UW Food Science.
• Two informal ‘tasting sessions’ with self-selected grass-dairy enthusiasts.
• A professional focus group conducted by AdyVoltedge Marketing Consultancy.
• A market research report created as part of this project (Caplan, 2009).
• A “Discovery Session” that brought together a group of 25 individuals from across the specialty dairy supply chain for a discussion on how to move the industry forward, held on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at the Oconomowoc Lake Club.

Research Methods

The research involved direct comparisons of pasture milk products with the same products made from conventional milk. We collected milk from five member grass-based dairies of the PastureLand Cooperative (formerly Edelweiss Graziers) three times during the grazing season in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The farms were managed according to a protocol that requires at least 60% of the animals’ diet be comprised of fresh pasture. The farms were required to have at least 1.5 acres of pasture per cow to ensure that all farms could remain on pasture for the duration of a six month growing season. All farms were fed a small amount of grain (five to ten pounds) and supplemental hay periodically. No silage was fed.

The three sampling times coincided with the spring flush of pasture (May), mid-summer after pastures had been clipped and were in vegetative growth (July), and when cooler, moister conditions returned in the fall (September).

For the mid-summer sampling, we also collected milk from a confinement farm for comparison. We made batches of two to four dairy products at each sampling time. These included fluid milk, butter, yogurt, and cream. All products were made in the University of Wisconsin Food Science Department’s dairy lab by Dr. Rankin and his staff.

The products were then compared side-by-side in three ways: 1) analysis of the chemical composition, 2) evaluation of consumer preferences, and 3) investigation of culinary qualities. Dr. Rankin conducted testing to measure differences in chemical composition including fat, true protein, somatic cells, lactose, and other compounds that contribute to milk processing quality. Testing was also done on product physical properties such as texture, melting temperature, and color. Consumer sensory analyses were conducted on some of the samples as well. Samples were provided to the participating chefs for evaluation in cooking.

Market Assessment

Three market assessment activities were conducted. The first was a market survey and report conducted by team member Leah Caplan. She conducted interviews with dairy processors, retailers, and consumers in the region to assess the interest in a “specialty milk” for value added products and explored in-store marketing opportunities for grass-fed products. A focus group was conducted by AdyVoltedge, a market research firm, and our team held a ‘discovery session’ involving local food industry leaders in the Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago area. Our results are highlighted here and fully summarized in a separate project report that will be available on-line.

Research results and discussion:
Pasture Characteristics

Pastures on the five participating farms were sampled prior to each milk collection in late spring, mid-summer, and fall in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Pasture composition was consistent across yearsm but varied somewhat within each season, with 55 to 60% grass, 29 to 37% legume, depending on the season, and the remainder comprised of broadleaf weeds. Legume content was lowest in midsummer at 29% and higher in spring (34%) and fall (37%). Primary grass species included orchardgrass (45% of grasses), with smaller amounts of Kentucky bluegrass, quackgrass, smooth brome, and timothy. Ladino clover comprised 54% of legumes, with red clover and alfalfa also present. Dandelions comprised 70% of the broadleaf plants in the pastures. Other broadleafs present included curly dock, burdock, plantain, thistles, and Queen Ann’s lace. Most of the pastures contained ten or more species. We found no evidence that specific pasture species have an influence on the flavor of the milk, although there is anecdotal information suggesting that strongly flavored plants such as wild onions or mustard species can impart “off-flavors” in milk. Our research suggests that a dense, diverse pasture with many species heightens what Scott Rankin describes as the “grassy note” that we observed in the pasture milk.

General Product Characteristics

Our results suggest that the chemistry of pasture milk is complex, and that it unlikely that a single compound or “smoking gun” can be identified that explains the differences that we’re seeing. We have quantified differences in color, texture, melting point and other attributes, between pasture-grazed and conventional milk, but pinpointing specific sources for those differences may elude us in the end. As part of the project, we analyzed samples for butterfat, protein and solids, as well as proportions of individual fatty acids, for each sampling period. We measured proportions of 22 fatty acids found in milk and observed no significant differences between the pasture milk and the conventional milk in terms of types or proportions of individual fatty acids that can account for the differences we see in the color, flavor, aroma, and texture of the resulting products.

Milk is a complex product. In addition to more than twenty fatty acids, there are potentially thousands of volatile compounds contributing to flavor, aroma, and texture. Perhaps pinpointing the causes may not be nearly as important as characterizing these differences and qualities, and assessing how best to use this unique product. The product characteristics section below combines comments and information from both laboratory analysis of products and chefs’ evaluations and other observations from working with these products for three years.


The most obvious characteristic of milk from pastured cows is the color. There is a creamy tone to the pasture milk as opposed to the more pure white that we have become accustomed to in conventional milk.

Chef Jack Kaestner notes that, in general, a more intense color was noted in all pasture milk products when compared to conventional products, with color intensity increasing from milk to yogurt to cream to butter. This suggests that the pigment is in the butterfat and, as water is removed and the fat is concentrated in products, the color gets yellower. In informal tastings of pasture butter with various groups, Chef Jack has often heard the comment “that is what butter use to look like”. Also, Jack observed that, in many finished baked products, the pasture grazed items had a more appetizing look and golden hue. The browning action was excellent in terms of visual and flavor as will be noted later.

By the third year of the study, Chef Jack had developed an eye for that deep hue in butter products and observed subtle changes even in commercial “confinement” butter. He noticed when melting butter in large quantities (15 pounds per week) in the restaurant where he was Executive Chef, that it had a very deep hue even though it was not labeled as pasture butter. Since it was late July, it could have been from conventional cattle being grazed during the summer months, which is very common in Wisconsin. For about five weeks, the butter was deep yellow, then it slowly lost that deep rich hue going into fall and winter.

The assessment of color in this study was conducted using an instrument called a colorimeter. In essence, the colorimeter assays reflected light from the surface of the material and assigns values to that reflected light based on a three dimensional space. The space is defined by three axes, ‘L’, ‘a’ and ‘b’. The ‘L’ axis is regarded as a lightness scale running from 0 (black) to 100 (pure white). The ‘a’ axis has a central value of zero and depicts hues running from green (negative ‘a’ values) to red (positive values). The ‘b’ axis also has a central value of zero and depicts hues running from blue (negative ‘b’ values) to yellow (positive values).

Table 1 displays L-a-b values we measured for conventional vs. grass-based butter assayed using a colorimeter. In general, the grass-based butters are darker (lower ‘L’ values), are slightly greened (more negative ‘a’ values), perhaps from chlorophyll, which is a green pigment in live plants, and are substantially more yellow (much more positive ‘b’ values). Again, because this color or pigmentation is associated with the milkfat, high milkfat products, such as butter, cheese or cream demonstrate this effect more dramatically than lower milkfat products.

The color of grass based dairy products is most likely dictated by the concentrations of compounds, including pigments, deposited into the lipid phase of the milk from the cow’s ingestion of green, grassy materials. Such compounds are thought to be from the deposition of carotenoid compounds such as ?-carotene into the milkfat phase of the milk. In fact, our research determined that ?-carotene concentrations were substantially higher in the grass-based butters (Table 2), even in winter when the cattle were on a dry hay diet.

Because ?-carotene is a fat-soluble compound, the color is concentrated in butterfat, making pasture butter so yellow that it reminded some of our participants of the artificial yellow color of margarine. Modern conventional butter is almost white because of the lack of fresh pasture in most cows’ diets. Conventional butter has color added, which contributes to uniformity of color from package to package. Pasture butter is likely to be variable in color depending on when it is made during the growing season. Consumer education may be needed to get people comfortable with this variability.


This and other research suggest that the relative proportions of the many fatty acids differ between pasture milk and conventional milk. The kinds and proportions of fatty acids influence texture in dairy products, with butter being influenced most obviously, and less pronounced effects observed for other products such as cream and yogurt.

The proportions of various fatty acids differed between pasture milk and conventional milk, but the differences weren’t pronounced enough to associate physical texture differences with them (Appendix 2). So, although not documented through testing, the chefs observed that pasture butter seems to maintain a more stable texture and consistency over a broader range of temperatures than conventional butter. Both chefs reported finding it softer at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to work with in pastries without fracturing.

Chef Jack observed that the texture of the pasture dairy products was different from the conventional ones, but how they differed depended on the product being compared. For example, when making crème friache, the pasture milk crème friache was thicker and created a creamier sensation on the tongue. In making a classical French Beurre Blanc or butter sauce, the pasture-based butter sauce was more viscous after being made and in coating food items. The butter tends to be more pliable than conventional butter, especially at refrigerator temperatures as noted above.

For some recipes, it is important to pay attention to chilling or keeping the butter well chilled before and during production of bakery items, especially in laminated doughs like croissants. For these recipes, the pasture butter was easier to work with. This is so that the suspension of fat in liquid doesn’t break. Since conventional butter is rock hard at cold temperatures, it is difficult to work/roll/shape these pastry doughs. We observed that pasture butter doesn’t break or melt as readily at room temperature, thus temperature is less critical than the stability of the blend of fat and liquid in these recipes. The pasture butter is soft, pliable, and stable at room temperature, so it doesn’t need to be ice cold when making pastries. If it is chilled, it is easier to work with as it isn’t as brittle.

Buttercream made with pasture butter seems to have a more satiny texture, carries the flavorings well and finishes well in the mouth. In making classic buttercream, conventional butter needs to be at room temperature so that when it is introduced into the warm meringue, it doesn’t get too hard too quickly. It must be whipped until it is thoroughly cooled and stable. Because of its more pliable texture, the pasture butter can be added at a cooler temperature, thus hastening the cooling and keeping the mixture more stable. When serving a cake frosted with conventional buttercream, it is a delicate balance between being too soft and beginning to melt and deflate and too cold, hard and brittle. The buttercream made with pasture butter was light and silky across a broader spectrum of cool and warm temperatures. Cookie dough made with pasture butter is more crumbly before baking and the chocolate cookies seemed to dry out more quickly, while short bread cookies had a very agreeable crumbly texture.

Texture of foods is a complex phenomenon with numerous sensory attributes (e.g. gummy-ness hardness, crispness, etc.) affected by numerous chemical and physical properties. With the grass-based dairy products, differences in texture were more noticeable in products with higher milkfat content, such as butter. We measured hardness of butter using a common instrumental assessment of food texture called the Warner-Bratzler Shear Force Procedure. This method involves determining the peak force required to cut or deform the product. The force is displayed in “g” or grams of force required to penetrate the product. The harder the product is the greater number of grams of force it will take to penetrate the surface.

As alluded to above, the structure of a food is dependent on numerous factors and molecular-scale interactions – the structure of ice cream is very different than that of cheese and again different in butter. From manufacturing and comparing grass-based products to their conventional counterparts, a most significant textural feature is the softening of grass-based butter as the temperature increases. The texture of butter is greatly dependent on the ratio of solid to liquid material or “solid fat index”. As the butter is heated, the solid material melts, the ratio shifts in favor of the liquid fraction and the butter is texturally softer. Thus, when evaluating butter for texture, it is important to evaluate is at several temperatures, such as refrigeration and room temperature.

At refrigeration temperatures, there was little difference in hardness values, however, at room temperature, the pasture butters were substantially softer than the conventional samples (Table 3). Such differences are thought to be the result of changes in fatty acid and triglyceride structures. In general, a more liquid or softer structure is indicative of smaller, more unsaturated fatty acids and smaller, potentially more heterogenous triglycerides. The practical implications of this softening phenomenon reside in the functionality of the butter in culinary applications (such as baking) as well as in other foods where milkfat may contribute part of the structure, such as ice cream or cheese.


Anyone working with milk from a grazing dairy will most likely note the distinctive aroma. Historically this flavor has been noted most significantly in products manufactured in the spring season when cows first returned to pasture after winter confinement feeding. To some, this aroma is a great complement to dairy foods and reminiscent of grazing practices. To others this grazing aroma competes with the clean, bland notes manifest in conventional dairy products. In general the aroma is subtle, yet distinctive and fairly consistent in intensity over the grazing season. Numerous labs have worked to identify the chemical cause of grazing aroma. Some thought was aligned with the presence of a category of naturally-occurring alkyl phenol compounds; more recent work on this subject has not been as conclusive. Nonetheless, work published on this subject has yet to definitively characterize the chemical cause of grass aroma – it remains one of several aroma mysteries.

Present or not, some work has been conducted on determining the consumer response to grass-based flavor in dairy foods. In general, the blander the background flavor of the product, the more significant the impact of the grass note. Our work is described in the section below on consumer sensory testing.

Our cooperating chefs observed a unique aroma when working with pasture milk products. Chef Kaestner states: As standalone items, the pasture dairy products had varying degrees of more intense smells. Common adjectives used by colleagues: more dairy smell, creamier, more buttery smell. This was also noted during handling. When mixing doughs, creams, and buttercream, more intense dairy aromas were noted for the pasture products. One example was whipping pasture-based cream. It literally filled the kitchen with this incredible cream aroma. Another time, we were amazed when mixing the different butter creams—the kitchen literally smelled more like butter when the pasture butter was used, while the conventional ones smelled more of the added vanilla flavoring. Finished items also seem to carry the enhanced ‘dairy’ smell. We observed this in pancakes, cookies, pastries and pie doughs.


Probably the most significant difference we observed between the pasture milk products and conventional milk products is the flavor. While hard to quantify or describe, tasters easily distinguish what Dr. Rankin has termed a “grassy note” in the pasture milk. It is a more complex flavor according to our tasters, compared to a simple, cleaner flavor for conventional milk. This flavor, not surprisingly, works well in some foods and less well in others.

In general, pasture dairy products seem to have or contribute a more intense dairy or cream attribute to foods. It is most notable when recipes are compared side by side. Even the buttermilk generated from the butter-making process gave a creamier note/flavor to pancakes when incorporated in as an ingredient.

They also enhance and brighten herbal, onion, and vegetal flavors. A ranch-style dressing of yogurt, chives, dill, salt, pepper, and mayonnaise was much livelier when made with pasture yogurt than with conventional yogurt.

Chef Jack differentiates between pasture butter characteristics based on how it is used, either by itself, in its raw form or when it is an ingredient in a food product. The pasture butter by itself has a fuller flavor. The “grassy note” seems to hit you in the upper middle palate while the overall butter flavor lingers in your mouth. In contrast, the conventional butter flavor dissipated quickly. One comment heard by Jack in informal tastings was “that is what butter use to taste like”.
Pasture butter also lends itself very well in compound butters (softened butter which has had flavorings such as herbs, spices or citrus added to it). The flavors carry through on tastings even with smaller amounts of seasonings added. Combining the butter with shallots made for a wonderful flavor combination. Chef Jack notes that many classical French dishes use butter and shallots together.

In items where butter was incorporated into a food product there seemed to be a flavor enhancing effect. Chef Jack is not really sure if this was just another dimension added by the pasture butter or if there is something in the butter that heightens other flavors. He likens it to an umami effect.

A good example is browned butter with sage and garlic over pasta, which is a very classic Italian dish. With the conventional butter, this dish is good, but with the pasture butter the dish just “pops” in your mouth. The brown butter and sage were much more intense. The browning action really adds a “nuttiness” to dishes made with pasture butter.

A second example is when raw butter is swirled into a sauce right before serving. This is another classical French technique. Here again, the conventional butter was good in this type of recipe, but the pasture butter really made the flavors pop. A shiitake mushrooms sauce was most striking.

A third and final example is in a classic French buttercream. The conventional was good, but the pasture butter recipe just seemed to have more overall flavor and married well with the vanilla.

Chef Jack relates that when he was just starting out in his career as a chef, he wondered what the big deal was about simple French dishes like Chicken Kiev, but when he uses pasture butter in the simple sauces for such dishes, he understands how they gained their prominence in the culinary world.

Other culinary observations

Chefs Leah Caplan and Jack Kaestner have been involved in the project since the beginning and have become very familiar with pasture products. Their observations can be summarized as follows:

1) Occasionally, especially in the spring sampling times, the fluid milk we collected had an oniony flavor. It wasn’t pleasant for drinking, but according to our chefs, in cooking, it was phenomenal. This complex flavor combined well with the flavors in soups and other savory foods. The spring milk yielded a remarkably deep vegetal ramp soup when compared to one made with conventional milk, which seemed to have a more one-dimensional flavor. Interestingly, ramps, chives, spring onions, and green garlic are all in season when the milk has this flavor, making it slightly less desirable to drink, but extra desirable to add as cream, butter, milk or cheese to dishes with these ingredients. Nature seems to know what tastes good together!

2) The differences between pasture and conventional milk seem to be concentrated in the butterfat. For that reason, we have focused much of our research on unsalted butter. Curiously, most commercially available unsalted butter has “flavorings” listed as an ingredient. According to Scott Rankin this is an addition added to make it taste more like butter.

3) Conventional butter and cream tend to mask other flavors when used in cooking. Pasture dairy products enhance and complement the herbal, vegetable and fruit flavors of many recipes.

4) Pasture butter seems to maintain a more stable texture and consistency over a broader range of temperatures. It is much softer at cold temperatures, easier to work with in pastries and other recipes without fracturing. It also doesn’t melt as readily at room temperature.

5) One of the products we investigated was yogurt. Chefs think of yogurt as sort of like ‘young cheese’. Working with yogurt, our chefs remarked on its tangy and earthy flavor that is much more complex than conventional. This works well in many recipes such as yogurt salad dressing. Leah Caplan made a frozen yogurt with just yogurt and honey as ingredients. It was delicious, with a tangier flavor and creamier texture than that made with conventional yogurt.

6) Jack has observed that the enhanced flavors imparted by the pasture dairy and meat products have allowed him to reduce portion size by about 1/3 on his menus. Customers just seem to be satisfied with a smaller portion. There seems to be some “satiety effect”. This helps with his budget and allows him to purchase more locally produced, pasture product because he can use less and feed more people. About 30% of his food budget goes toward local foods.

Fatty Acid Composition

We measured milk components at each sampling period (Milk Components graph), as well as the breakdown of fatty acid composition. Total fat content of the pasture milk was slightly higher in mid-summer than in spring or fall, and averaged 3.15%, lower than that of the conventional milk sampled in summer (3.41%). Total solids followed a similar pattern, averaging 10.79% for the pasture milk and 11.32% for the conventional milk. Protein followed the opposite pattern, measuring lower in mid-summer than in spring or fall, and averaging higher (3.08%) than the conventional milk level (2.85%).

Twenty two fatty acids were measured in the pasture and conventional milk. While the ratios of different fatty acids were different between the two types of milk, there were no obvious patterns that readily explain the differences in texture, aroma, and flavor that we observed.

Fatty acid breakdown among saturated, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated fats was similar between pasture and conventional milks. Here again, we saw no significant differences either between the conventional and pasture milk or among the sampling periods, with saturated fats averaging about 68%, mono-unsaturated averaging 28%, and poly-unsaturated fats averaging about 3.5%. There were distinct differences in specific fatty acids between the pasture and conventional milks. We graphed percentage differences of the pasture milk in comparison to conventional milk (at zero). Oleic and stearic acids were more than a percentage point higher in the pasture milk, whereas palmitic acid was more than two percentage points lower. Whether these differences in fatty acids are responsible for the texture differences we see in the butter made from these milk types is unknown.

Consumer Response
  • We conducted several formal and informal evaluations of consumer attitudes toward pasture-based products. Formal processes included consumer sensory panels and focus groups. We also conducted informal ‘tasting sessions’: comparative side-by-side tastings with self-selected volunteers among grazing farmers and other interested parties.

    Consumer Sensory Panels
    Consumer sensory panels were conducted using conventional and grass-based homogenized milk, plain yogurt and cheese. We report here on the milk and yogurt panels. Such studies involve the recruitment of average consumers who consider themselves dairy product consumers. Volunteer consumers evaluate the products at a campus-based sensory facility with controlled lighting in individual booths. Data is collected using a variety of scales or ratings and assessments designed to determine critical opinions; in general, a single consumer panel will collect data from approximately 100 panelists and the data is summarized with a variety of statistical evaluations. For the milk, the consumers were asked to rate their degree of liking of several attributes, namely:, overall flavor, aroma, appearance, aftertaste (1-9 pt scale, where 9 is most desirable), and purchase intent (1-5 pt scale, where 5 is most desirable). Average values are presented in table 4.

    Plain yogurt samples were evaluated using a similar approach wherein the consumers were asked to rate their degree of liking of the attributes, overall flavor, aroma, appearance, acidity (1-9 pt scale, where 9 is most desirable), and purchase intent (1-5 pt scale, where 5 is most desirable). Average values are presented in table 5.

    Focus Group
    In July 2011, we contracted with AdyVoltedge, a market research firm, to conduct a formal focus group with pasture products. While the consumer sensory panels provide a good assessment of general consumer acceptance of a product, the focus groups that Ady conducts test the products on a targeted audience of ‘foodies’, individuals who are likely to be the first to try a new, value-added dairy product. This evaluation helps determine which new products are likely to be well-received initially, and as a result, are likely to succeed in the marketplace. The focus group allows for not only tasting and rating foods, but more in-depth exploration of consumer attitudes and interests.

    The focus group compared pasture-grazed and conventional milk, butter, and two types of cheese. In contrast to the consumer sensory panel, the focus group preferred the pasture fluid milk over the conventional milk (Table 6). Comments included: creamier, sweeter taste; it has an interesting flavor note; buttery taste, tasted sweeter to me; tasted superior. Both were good but the pasture milk was creamier.

    Responses to the other products were mixed (Table 7). Panelists generally preferred the pasture product in cheeses, but preferred the conventional butters. Tasters remarked on the bright yellow color of the pasture butter, with one describing it as ‘unnaturally yellow’.
    Tables 1 & 2

Research conclusions:

Several of our research activities were intended to assess consumer, chef, distributor and retailer response to pasture dairy products in general and to our results in particular. Several sources were used to provide insights into consumer interest in and attitudes toward pasture dairy products. Published consumer surveys suggest that, in general, pasture-based dairy and meat products are viewed positively for a number of reasons. A 2008 Michigan State University survey found that features such as environmentally sustainable, humane animal handling, and absence of antibiotics and synthetic hormones in the feed of the animals, resonated with consumers.

The surveys conducted by our team targeted ‘opinion leaders’ or cutting edge buyers, with the assumption being that this demographic can provide a bell-weather for future trends in the industry. Respondents were selected based on their interest in and experience with, local, pasture-based, and artisanal foods.

Focus Group

For our focus group, we assessed participant responses to terms and concepts surrounding pasture-based products. AdyVoltedge focus groups are always given a list of about 30 labeling terms to respond to. Over the years, different terms have come in and out of favor with consumers. The terms “pasture fed” and “grass fed” both ranked about in the middle of the terms with scores of 3.26 and 3.23 out of 5.0. Currently, “ethical treatment of animals” and “hand crafted” are at the top and “glycemic index” and “gluten free” rank at the bottom of the list. Not surprisingly, “pasture fed” and “grass fed” clustered together with “certified organic” and “organic”. This reflects confusion among consumers as to the nature of these farming systems and the foods produced under them.

Janet says that the theme that connects the trend she’s been seeing over a decade of surveying consumers is “authenticity”. Although it may sound trite, her data suggests that a growing number of consumers really do want to “know where their food comes from”. The terms that resonate with consumers change over time, but all revolve around the theme of knowing and trusting the food system. A diversity of labeling terms and eco-labels create confusion for the consumer, so establishing a specific set of terms for pasture raised products and a standard that is consistent is a means of protecting this sector over the long term.

Janet’s focus group participants are asked to respond to a product “concept statement” that uses terminology and images likely to be used in marketing materials. The focus group scored the “pasture grazed concept” very highly, with a 4.9 out of five. Key aspects of the concept that resonated with them included that it is perceived as healthy for cows and people, is sustainable, natural and chemical free. Aspects that were not appreciated included the scientific nature of the concept, including the ‘healthy fats’ concepts. They preferred the term “pasture grazed” over “grass-fed” or even “pasture-fed”, with “grass-fed” conjuring up images of confined cattle being fed grass versus “pasture grazed” more clearly creating the image of cows harvesting their own feed on pasture.

Eric Snowdeal from Organic Valley shared information on a more detailed focus group of 1000 consumers of organic milk conducted by Organic Valley nationally. These participants also felt that the term “pasture-raised” was a better description of the product than “grass-fed.” More than 50% of the respondents viewed pasture raised milk as being significantly different than the organic milk they were currently drinking.

Organic Valley asked consumers how much more they would be willing to pay for a pasture dairy product. Responses ranged from 10 to 15% more up to 75% more, although at least one respondent asked the question: why should the product cost more if it is cheaper to produce? A question on purchase intent for pasture milk ranked 4.6 out of five.

Market assessment

One source of consumer information is Leah Caplan’s 2009 survey of 35 customers of Willy Street Coop in Madison. Her data supports some of the conclusions of other surveys and digs deeper into the motivations and preferences of consumers.

• The vast majority of consumers believe that all milk is from cows on pasture. This creates a challenge in differentiating pasture milk, as it requires the marketer to first educate the consumer on mainstream dairy farming practices so that they will understand why pasture milk is different.
• Organic is the upper price threshold currently. Consumers did not express willingness to pay more for pasture dairy products than they would for organic products.
• Purchasing considerations in order of importance:
o Environmental impact, humane treatments of animals, and nutrition
o Prices, locally sourced
o Taste
o Brand, seasonality, color and appearance
• When asked which pasture dairy products they would like to have available for purchase, consumers responded based on their current purchasing habits:
o Milk
o Butter
o Yogurt
o Artisanal cheeses

Restaurant perspectives

The restaurant industry has changed over the years to focus on cost cutting, to the detriment of using high quality, artisan products. Even butter has been replaced by cheaper sources of fat that work well in a more automated kitchen. As this evolution was occurring, we lost a lot of flavor and that has impacted cooking. There is a growing counter trend, however, among chefs in white tablecloth restaurants who are refocusing on artisanal products and local foods.

Many of these chefs understand the value of grass-fed products both from a flavor perspective and from a farmer-story perspective. Jack Kaestner has used grass-based products for more than seven years. He observes that they are so flavorful that he finds that he can reduce portion sizes to about half what he’d previously served and his customers are fully satisfied. He has adapted his cooking style to make best use of the stronger flavors of both grass-fed meats and dairy products.

Many chefs are seeking out artisan ingredients to revive the role these foods played in traditional recipes. Jack has experimented with classic French and Italian dishes and has found that pasture meats and dairy products make a huge difference in flavor. These foods bring out and complement the other flavors in these traditional dishes. It’s a one-plus-one-equals-three effect, as Jack says.

Both Jack and Leah Caplan have observed that customers are beginning to notice the difference in pasture dairy products and ask for them. Leah observes that customers in Metcalf’s Grocery store where she works, gravitate toward the cheeses from pastured milk even if they don’t ask for them specifically.

Other restaurants interviewed for this project included white table cloth restaurants, such as L’Etoile, Harvest, and Sardine in Madison, and two less expensive Madison restaurants, Bluephies and Marigold. Most of the restaurant owners expressed confusion similar to that of consumers, assuming that, if a product is organic, it is pasture-raised and if it is pasture-raised, it must be organic.

The white table cloth restaurateurs interviewed make it a point to serve at least some local foods and appreciate pasture dairy products primarily from the perspective of appearance and flavor, terroir, and the story of the local product. All three used primarily cheese and butter, both for serving and cooking with. They observed that these products had more stability at room temperature, as was noted above. They commented on the need to educate consumers, especially with regard to the above mentioned assumption consumers have that all cows are out on pasture.

Bluephies and Marigold respondents didn’t have much experience with pasture dairy products and felt that the price made them impractical in their menus in things like cheese sandwiches. Both felt that cheese would be a good gateway product for them to try these products for both staff and customers.

Distributors and retailers reinforce the importance of story and flavor

A growing number of distributors and retailers are looking for products with these attributes: flavor and a good story. These smaller scale distributors are interested in making a connection with the producers and processors because they market the products based on their stories. The stories sell the product.

Participants in our Discovery Session are part of the evolution of the local and artisan foods movement. Starting with chefs and consumers, such trends are also drawing distributors and retailers toward this sector. Cesar Olivares, representing retailer Pastorale in Chicago, and Scott Dickenson, owner of the distribution company Natural Direct, reinforced Mike’s observations on what is resonating with consumers. Both focus on the ‘know the farmer’ approach to representing the products that they market. Their customers are looking for a good story behind the product, artisanship, and flavor. Pastorale even takes their staff on ‘field trips’ to visit the farms where the products are produced so that they really understand how it is made and can effectively share their stories with their customers.

This is a vital building block in development of this market. At the direct market level, each farmer has the opportunity to represent his or her product accurately to customers. Once that direct connection is broken as is necessary in the scaling up process, something else must be in place to give the consumer that connection or that sense of authenticity. Logos and certifications can help, but having the distributor or retailer well-versed in the product and the story preserves the personal connection and in the long run, is probably more effective.

How have consumer preferences evolved and what is the mainstay of consumer interest?

As a relatively new market, the demographic of pasture dairy consumers is not clearly understood and is a moving target. Mike Gingrich of Uplands Cheese, has observed this evolution over the 10+ years since he introduced his Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese. For the most part, he does not talk about his cheese being from pasture milk. He talks about how his cows are managed and how his cheese is made. He emphasizes the flavor of the cheese. He has been successful because he is the farmer and he answers the phone—buyers get to talk directly to the person who milks the cows and makes the cheese. Since the beginning, he has had a small but increasing number of buyers interested in the nutritional aspects of grass-fed products (‘healthy’ fats, including Omega 3s and CLA or conjugated linoleic acid). Lately, he is also getting an increasing number of customers interested in raw milk cheeses, also for health reasons.

Steve Young-Burns, representing PastureLands Coop, expressed a similar view. Their products are made from 100% grass-fed milk—the cows are fed no grain. He has observed that there is a growing customer base for this kind of product for health reasons. Both agreed that the health aspects will take a product only so far, though. Consumers may purchase a product once for health reasons, but if the flavor and quality aren’t there, it won’t be purchased again, no matter how healthy it is for you.

Outreach event description and evaluation

We did a more traditional evaluation of our final event—the Cheese Making Workshop on September 10, 2012. This event was held at Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee. We planned a series of stations including one in the cheesemaking room with several cheesemakers demonstrating and explaining the process, a second with participating graziers describing how managed grazing works, and a third cooking demonstration and tasting of grass-based products compared side-by-side with conventional ones. The plan was somewhat thwarted by the cheesemaking process itself which didn’t pay attention to the schedule we’d set for the different segments. However, the overall event went well and participants expressed appreciation for what they learned.

Of the 25 individuals participating, 17 responded to our survey. Following is a summary of the survey results:
• Overall value of the workshop: 12 of the 17 respondents rated it high or very high (70.5%).
• Met my goals: 12 of the 17 respondents said that it met them well or very well (70.5%).
o Participant goals included:
-To gain a more thorough understanding of the current state of grass-based dairying in Wisconsin as well as the direction it is moving.
-Learn about the cheese making process; the differeces in the two products and network with cheese makers.
-To experience hands-on cheese making.
-To learn more of the science behind grass based milk. What is the reason it is different.
-Talk to people about the benefits of grazing
-To learn more about grass fed milk and take those points back to educate staff.
-To learn more about pastured dairy products.
-Learning about grass based dairy items
-Learn about grass-fed butter, cheese
-The glory of Grazed Milk and dairy products.
-Host the cheesemaking.
-To learn!
-To see the attendees reaction to the different products
-To see the new clockshadow facility and to explore hands on the direct influence pasturing cows has on dairy products
• Value for learning about pasture based farming and products: 9 of the 17 respondents rated it high or very high (56.3%). This was a challenge for us—cheesemaking proceeds at its own pace and we had some challenges with the flow of the event because of this, as evidenced by a participant comment that it ‘seemed a bit chaotic’.
• Value for learning about cheesemaking: 7 of the 17 rated it high or very high (43.8%). Responses were varied from “Very little was done with the subject.” to “We were taught very technical information about cheesemaking and good talking points for the laymen members of group to take back to teach our staffs.”
• Value for networking: 12 out of 17 rated it high or very high (75%).

Economic Analysis

Economic analysis was not intended to be part of this project, however, our work has provided a set of recommendations for establishing a market for pasture-based dairy products.

Developing a Pasture Dairy Brand

Developing a brand is about differentiating your product from others on the market. This is critical to this emerging market because there is clearly confusion among consumers about pasture-based versus confinement systems of dairy production. However, all of the panelists in our discovery session expressed concern about needing to draw comparisons between their product and mainstream, conventional production systems. For most non-food product marketers, this wouldn’t be an issue—companies are expected to differentiate their products through marketing, but in the food sector, this is less common. In fact, for a number of commodities, there is a ‘we’re all in this together’ approach that precludes organizations like the Milk Marketing Board from providing support to specific ‘niche’ products even when they have the potential to develop into major markets for Wisconsin dairy. Grass-dairy producers may need to establish their own marketing organization to promote their product, similar to the Organic Trade Association or other niche market organizations.

Working with milk from pastured cows

What is the ‘right’ balance of feed sources in the cow’s diet?
Most dairy cows in the United States are fed a ration that may include forages (dry hay and/or pasture), ensiled forages such as silage (corn stalks and grain) or haylage (ensiled hay), and grains and oil seeds. We have anecdotal observations from several cheesemakers that ensiled feed in the diet of the cows can have a significant negative effect on cheese quality. Most groups producing pasture dairy products have protocols prohibiting members from feeding ensiled feeds.

Although there is a trend among some dairy farms to provide a 100% forage and pasture diet with no grain, the vast majority of dairy graziers do feed some grain along with pasture and hay. Most of the successful pasture-based dairy products are made with milk from cows that receive some grain in their ration. Mike Gingrich, maker of Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese feels that the grain he feeds contributes to the unique flavor of the product. He shoots for 80% pasture intake and makes cheese only when the pasture is available and in good condition. The PastureLand Cooperative (formerly Edelweiss Graziers) has a minimum standard of 60% of the cows diet from pasture. In contrast, the National Organic Standard requires dairy farmers to provide no less than 30% of their cows’ diet. At this level, the unique qualities of pasture milk are not present. Identifying what level of pasture intake is needed to achieve the characteristics we have observed in the milk from the PastureLand Coop farms is an important but currently unanswered question.

Seasonality and other sources of variability

While variability can be a positive attribute in artisan products, some level of standardization will be needed as the grass dairy market grows. One key to success may be making sure not only that the cows are pastured, but that their diet is managed to consistently produce the excellent flavor and other unique characteristics that consumers of these products expect. A balance needs to be struck between consistency and the value of the inherent variability resulting from pasturing cattle.

As the pasture-grazed dairy industry scales up, protocols will become increasingly important. Consistency among batches of product can be achieved on a single farm fairly readily because just one farmer controls the management of the cattle. It is also easily achieved when many farms are contributing to a milk pool—extremes are averaged out. Small companies and cooperatives are most likely to be challenged with variability as individual farms make ration changes.

Uplands’ cheese is made from the milk of a single herd of cows. This approach has pros and cons. On the positive side, this reduces variability and makes the product more predictable. On the other hand, production and growth of the business are limited by the size of the farm.

Mike Gingrich’s template may be a good one to follow. His goal is for 80% of his cows’ intake from pasture while he’s making cheese. He feeds 5 to 8 pounds of grain per cow per day, and sometimes supplements with hay. If hay feeding gets above 3 to 5 pounds a day, he stops making cheese. He also grazes his pastures relatively tall and allows the cows to be selective. He does not select specific species of grasses for his pastures, rather, he goes for diversity. He feels that the cows’ process of choosing what to graze contributes to the unique flavor of his cheese. Mike says that chefs get this—there is little need to educate them. Dairy processors may have a harder time grasping the value of a ‘unique raw product’ to work with. The industry has worked for years to make milk more uniform, which makes the manufacturing process simpler from their perspective.

PastureLand Cooperative (formerly Edelweiss Graziers) has a protocol that all five of their farmers follow. It sets pasture intake at 60% and requires at least 1.5 acres of pasture per cow. If one farm runs out of pasture before the end of the grazing season, all production of their pasture-based products must stop for the season. To reduce the possibility of this happening, the Coop requires members to maintain at least 1.5 acres of pasture per cow. Most processors of pasture milk have found that feeding ensiled feeds influences product quality negatively, so these are not allowed among the producers of pasture dairy products.

Addressing seasonality through marketing

Seasonal changes in pasture milk are known anecdotally among the farmer-processors who work with this product, and our research documents significant differences. There are several examples of how this variation can be addressed. Mike Gingrich’s positioning and cheese-making practices are integrated to help address this challenge. Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese is aged at least 60 days. Each batch ages differently and the complexity of the flavors is enhanced with aging. His target market appreciates this variability. When purchasing Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Cesar Olivares from Pastorale selects specific batches that will age well, and then purchases a whole batch to be sold at Pastorale over the course of the year. This addresses the seasonality of the pasture-based product.

Another pasture-grazed dairy marketer, Otter Creek Organic Farm, seeks to capitalize on seasonality by producing four seasonal cheeses, each with its own unique flavor, packaging design, and marketing messages.

Grass Point Farms takes a different approach. While the majority or pasture dairy products on the market today are made only when the cows are on pasture, Grass Point Farms focuses less on the unique flavor and other characteristics of the milk of pastured cows and more on marketing grass-based as a sustainable farming system. In their marketing, they compare the systems side by side: grass-fed, conventional, organic, and other ecolabels. Their marketing encompasses the triple bottom line definition of sustainability—environment, economics, and social benefits. This is a complex message to get across. To help with that, their farms are third-party certified to ensure that they are managed according to their protocol.

Growing the Market: what are the challenges?

Product selection
Most of the successful products to date have been cheeses. Its character fits with the complexity of flavors in pasture milk and the aging process seems to enhance this synergy. Cheeses that work well are those that have more earthy flavors, such as aged cheeses. Commodity cheeses such as mozzarella and cheddar might not be the best choices, both because of the need for standardization and the price point associated with these commonly used staple products.

Milk and other more perishable products may be challenging. Not only is milk highly perishable, but it is very price sensitive as well, being a dinner table staple in many households. The ongoing volatility in the organic milk market provides insights into what could happen in the pasture fluid milk market.

Butter is the product that was most prized by the chefs on our team. Although it is clear that pasture butter is an excellent product, it comes with a logistical challenge. Butter can be frozen, which reduces the challenges of seasonality. However, products like butter, which utilize only part of the milk, leave the processor with by-products to sell or dispose of. Developing a product mix that fully utilizes the milk is a key to success. PastureLand Cooperative struggled for years and finally went out of business, not because they’re having trouble selling their award-winning butter, but because of the organic skim milk that they can’t find a market for. The PastureLand label has been purchased by the former Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative.

While the bright yellow color of pasture butter is appealing, this isn’t always an asset with other products. The cream from pastured cows also has a yellowish color that some chefs did not like.

Other products, such as yogurt and ice cream should be considered, but with caution. The small-batch production characteristic of this early stage of development argues in favor of high-value, premium products with longer shelf-lives.

Product quality and consistency
Product consistency will become more of an issue as we move forward. For farmstead operations, it isn’t as much of a problem, but if we want to scale up the production of grass-fed products and grow the market, consistency will become more important. While a diversity of small processing plants is a benefit for this young industry, diversity among producers may create problems. Pooling larger numbers of farms will reduce variability from batch to batch, or having one or more large ‘anchor’ farms in the pool would help.

Creating a standard, and protocol to meet that standard, will go a long way toward providing a producer pool capable of producing a consistent product. This can reinforce consumer recognition of key characteristics unique to grass-fed products.

Our research should provide an understanding the seasonal variability that can provide useful information to processors interested in using pasture milk in their products. Marketing the products based on broader sustainable farming attributes as Grass Point Farms does may be an effective tool as well in helping understand seasonal variability in the product.

Logistical challenges
One logistical challenge that was brought to light in our interviews is related to delivery. With little shelf space for these perishable products, weekly or special order delivery of product is not practical. The small scale manufacturers of these products are challenged by their need to have more frequent deliveries.

Establishment of an efficient means of pooling milk from multiple farms that may not be in close proximity to each other or to the processing plant. Twenty two percent of dairy farms in Wisconsin are pasture-based, but there are not necessarily clusters of them within a convenient distance of any particular plant.

Other logistical problems are associated with contract processing. Investment in processing facilities is an option that some of the new companies have used, but others have tried to reduce investment by contracting for their processing with existing companies. Having the right kinds of facilities in close proximity to milk sources is another challenge. Hauling milk to partnering plants may end up impacting the final product if multiple pasteurizations are needed. While we have a large number of cheese plants in Wisconsin, processing capacity for other products is limited.

Building a brand is a slow process and several of the grass-dairy startups needed to maintain alternate channels (conventional channels) for their milk production for times when they are not producing their pastured product (winter) or when the demand doesn’t warrant production of that product.

Farmer Adoption

About 3000 Wisconsin dairy farmers are already using managed grazing as the primary source of forage on their farms. Our target audience included these farmers, but was primary aimed at processors, chefs, and retailers. Our outreach efforts will continue through 2013 with distribution of the final report and video to these audiences as well as a presentation at the American Cheese Society. Ultimately, if we are successful at establishing a market among dairy processors for pasture-milk as a ‘specialty ingredient’, this will encourage more farmers to transition their farms.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

1) Publication in 2009 of ‘Grass-Based Dairy Products: Challenges and Opportunities’ a series of profiles and case histories of pasture-based dairy marketing and product development ventures, with analysis of challenges and effective strategies. Available at:

2) First Annual ‘Grass-fed Dairy Tasting Event’ on August 12, 2009. This was our first outreach activity and it was a great success. We hosted 25 participants, including farmers, dairy processors, agency personnel, researchers and consumers to review our research results and participate in an informal ‘tasting’ which compared grass-fed versus conventional dairy products side-by-side in dishes prepared by our chefs. Please see attached document for a detailed summary of this event.

3) Vernon County Grazing Network on April 7, 2010, farmer audience, 15 attendees.

4) Wisconsin Cheese Festival on November 6, 2010, processor and consumer audience, about 40 attendees.

5) GrazeFest in Winona, MN on September 10, 2010, farmer audience, about 25 attendees.

6) WI School for Beginning Dairy Farmers on February 24, 2011, about 40 prospective farmers, present and via distance education.

7) Second annual ‘Grass-fed Dairy Tasting Event’ on Thursday, October 28, 2010, farmers, consumers, processors, and press, about 60 attendees. This event drew nearly three times the number of attendees as first event. We were able to partner with the University to bring in two European speakers: Dr. Anjo Elgersma, a Dutch researcher who has worked extensively with grass-based milk and the influence of fresh pasture on fatty acid profiles, and Gigi Cazaux, a graduate student from France who is studying the concept of Terroir among Wisconsin cheesemakers. We collected informal consumer preference data from participants.

8) We conducted a ‘discovery session’ on grass-based dairy on October 18th, 2011 in Oconomowoc, WI. About 25 people attended including retailers, chefs, distributors, processors, and others. The participants were guided through a series of discussions on such topics of consumer perspectives, market perspectives, development of a grass-based brand, and purchasing grass-based dairy products. A final session at the end of the day included a round-robin of comments on how to move the industry forward. The results of this discussion will be integrated into a final report and recommendations on market development for grass-based dairy products.

9) Development of a video: From Pasture to Plate: Research exploring the potential of grass-based dairy products in Wisconsin, a 13 minute video summarizing the research we’ve done and the development of the grass-based (or pasture-grazed) dairy industry to date. We have duplicated the video and have 100 DVDs available to distribute. The video is also up on YouTube on a temporary link: and will eventually be put on on DATCP’s YouTube channel. We plan to issue a press release announcing the video and the final report in the coming months.

10) Booth with video and educational materials at the Wisconsin Restaurant Expo on March 12-14, 2012 in Milwaukee. The Expo attracts over 6000 restaurateurs, chefs, food service, and institutional food buyers.

11) Cheese-making workshop for chefs. On September 10, 2012, we conducted a workshop for about 25 chefs, distributors, and retailers at the Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee. We made two kinds of cheese, both in a side by side comparison between conventional and pasture milk. We made batches of Camembert in July, let it age until the workshop and had that cheese for participants to taste. During the workshop, we made an Alpine cheese, similar to a Gruyere. That cheese has aged and we recently sent out samples to workshop participants. Participants also heard presentations about the project, about pasture-based dairying in the region and observed a demonstration by our participating chefs on how to use this product.

12) Pasture-Dairy Workshop at the Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival in Madison on November 10, 2012. This is a consumer event that brings in several hundred consumers for farm and cheese factory tours, as well as seminars and workshops on cheeses and cheese making. We did a 1.5 hour workshop that included a fencing demonstration (really), a showing of the video, and a panel discussion by our researchers, chefs, and processors. We had about 60 attendees for our session.

13) Presentation at the Midwest Value-Added Conference in LaCrosse on December 12, 2012. Our workshop titled Building a Market for Grass-Based Dairy including a showing of the video and panel discussion with project partners. About 15 people attended.

14) Development of a comprehensive final report and webpage on the UW Center for Dairy Research website (in progress).

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

Our recommendations for further work include:

1) Organize: organize pasture-based dairy farmers to facilitate pooling milk, marketing efforts, branding.
Only a small percentage of the more than 3000 pasture based dairy farmers in Wisconsin have the capacity to individually establish their own processing facility to market pasture-grazed products. At this stage, a reasonable next step is to engage the dairy processing community in collectively promoting this specialty milk. With many, relatively small pasture-based dairies in the region, pooling milk among these farms and offering it as a premium raw product to dairy processors may be an appropriate approach to make the unique qualities of this milk available for artisan products. Pasture milk may be used similar to goat or sheep milk, either in its pure form or blended with conventional cows’ milk.

2) Generate funds: Develop a checkoff to generate funds for marketing.
Development of this new product category would benefit from targeted marketing. Marketing would need to target both processors and consumers. An appropriate way to finance such marketing would be for those who stand to benefit to provide support, similar to what the Milk Marketing Board or Beef Checkoff program currently do. These broad commodity marketing programs, by their nature, are unable to promote any specific niche market within their generic product. A separate fund would need to be established to support promotion of pasture milk.

3) Create a standard: Work together to create a standard that ensures integrity of the product.
Additional research will be needed to pin-point the level of pasture needed in the cows’ diet to ensure that the milk sold as “Pasture Milk” will have the unique qualities that we’ve documented. Only with such a standard in place can we “scale up” this sector. For farmstead scale processing operations, it is relatively simple to ensure consistency among batches, because the processor controls the animals’ diets. When we move to the next level, a standard and protocol needs to be in place to ensure consistency.

4) Terminology: come to a consensus on what terms we will use to describe pasture milk.
We recommend using the phrase “pasture milk” or “pasture-grazed milk”. Participants in our focus groups felt that this terminology best captures the unique features of the production system and would most effectively tie it with the product qualities. In addition, the phrase “grass-fed” is already widely used in marketing meat, and for that product, “grass-fed” means no grain in the diet. Our research and our participating processors’ experience suggests that some grain in the diet is beneficial both to the health of the animal and to the quality and flavor of the product. Selecting a different term than “grass-fed” will reduce confusion among consumers and allow the “pasture dairy” sector to differentiate itself in the marketplace.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.