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

2010 Annual 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

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


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. Significant differences in flavor, texture, appearance, and culinary performance are being documented. The grass-based dairy products have a yellower color, a softer, creamier texture, and a flavor that has been described as ‘complex’. We expect these characteristics will be very appropriate for some dairy products, and less appropriate for others and by the end of the study, we plan to generate recommendations for dairy processors on the use of grass-based milk for value-added dairy products.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Project Objectives: This project engages dairy processors, farmers and chefs in evaluating grass-fed milk for specialty dairy products. Specific goals and related activities are to
1) define the unique flavors and processing qualities of grass-fed milk and document seasonal variations,
2) assess the value of these unique characteristics for developing specialty dairy products,
3) determine the feasibility of establishing a premium market for grass-fed milk based on these qualities.

Objective 1

In the second year of this project, we focused on objectives one and two above.
Our research team includes:
Dr. Scott Rankin, UW Food Science Department Dairy Product Specialist;
Dr. Dave Combs, UW Dairy Scientist;
Dr. Ken Albrecht, UW Agronomist;
Bob Wills, Master Cheesemaker and owner of Cedar Grove Cheese;
Bert Paris, grass-based dairy farmer and co-owner of Edelweiss Creamery and Dairy Graziers Cooperative;
Mike Gingrich, grass-based dairy farmer and co-owner of Uplands Cheese Company;
Jack Kaestner, Executive Chef at Oconomowoc Lake Club,
Leah Caplan, Executive Chef for Metcalf’s Sentry grocery store in Madison, and
Laura Paine, Grazing specialist for DATCP and project coordinator.

The project team met on 1/17/10, 6/3/10, 8/11/10, 10/12/10, 1/26/11 to monitor progress of the research and to assess results. We met after each milk collection/product testing cycle, plus several additional times to plan events and/or evaluate data.

• In 2010, we conducted seasonal milk collections from the Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative on May 3, June 28, September 27, and added a fourth sampling of winter milk (no fresh pasture) from the same farms on December 20th. For the mid-summer sampling, we collected milk samples from a confinement farm as we had done in 2009.
• We decided to focus our efforts on whole fluid milk and butter for the remainder of the project. The differences we are seeing seem to be concentrated in the fat and our chefs and scientists feel that studying these products in more depth will yield more useful information.
• We are continuing to conduct standard chemical and physical analyses (fatty acid profiles, melting point, colorimetry, etc.) appropriate to the products.
• We added measurement of beta-carotene in the forages and products to our analysis, as the color of the product is one of the most prominent differences.
• Chefs have continued to test the products in a variety of recipes and share their observations with the team. We have so far not succeeded in developing a means of capturing their observations in written form. I am considering working with them in this last season to do some filming of them working with and talking about the products as a means of capturing what they are learning.
• Due to lower than expected costs for the product analysis, we are able to conduct a third season of sampling, which we are planning for 2011.
• Also due to these lower costs, we added testing of Gouda and Emmentaller cheeses that are made by Edelweiss in both grass-fed and conventional forms. Testing of these cheeses is on-going and will include consumer taste panels.

Data Collection.
Data collection proceeded as planned. Team members Bert Paris and Laura Paine conferred about pasture stage of growth to ensure that we did the sampling during the prescribed timeframes.

Milk collection times fell on the following dates: 5/3, 6/28, and 9/27, and 12/20. For each of these collection dates we collected approximately 2400 pounds of milk from the five participating grass-based dairies and made varying quantities of the four products.

For the June sampling date, we also collected milk from one large conventional dairy and made the same products for side-by-side comparison to the grass-based dairy products. Products were then distributed to the two chefs for their evaluation. For each sampling date, we collected forage samples, samples of forage supplements, and information on feeding and grazing practices on the five farms.

Project monitoring.
Following each sampling date, the project team met, reviewed our activities, made any needed changes, and sampled the results of the chefs’ evaluation. The team met on January 26 to plan 2011 data collection and activities.

Objectives 2 & 3

In 2009, Leah Caplan completed a market assessment and summarized her findings in a report detailing her interviews with consumers, chefs, and dairy processors. Her preliminary findings are as follows:

• Aged cheese and butter would be the best products for market entry based on flavor, shelf life, and potential to warrant a premium price.
• Consumers and chefs generally do not recognize that conventional and organic dairy is not grass-fed. Thus an extensive education/marketing campaign is needed to boost customer demand for the products that producers and processors are poised to make.
• Environmental impact, flavor, and animal lifestyle were consistently cited as desirable attributes of grass-fed dairy.
• Non-traditional markets and packaging would help convey that these products are different.

We plan to use this information as we move into the outreach phase of the project. We have made tentative plans to work with the DATCP Dairy Business Innovation Center to conduct a ‘discovery session’ that will bring the processing, distribution, and retail sectors together with farmers to evaluate opportunities and risks associated with moving into the grass-based dairy market. This information will help us address our third objective, to determine the feasibility of establishing a premium market for grass-fed milk based on these qualities.


I have attached our chemical analysis report from 2009 and 2010. We continue to find that the chemistry data is not as clear-cut as we had expected. Fatty acid profiles are not significantly different among the samples and no one constituent seems to stand out as being responsible for the flavor, color and texture differences we’re observing. We will continue the research one more year and focus in this final year on butter, because the differences do seem to be concentrated in the fat.

Our observations continue to support the notion that the unique characteristics of grass-based products are probably suited to some products and not others. In the final year of the project, we hope to generate recommendations for the best uses of grass-based milk in value added products.

Presentations on our results:
Vernon County Grazing Network on April 7, 2010, farmer audience, 15 attendees.
Wisconsin Cheese Festival on November 6, 2010, processor and consumer audience, about 40 attendees.
GrazeFest in Winona, MN on September 10, 2010, farmer audience, about 25 attendees.
WI School for Beginning Dairy Farmers on February 24, 2011, about 40 prospective farmers, present and via distance education.

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 our event last year. 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 (see attached).

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We have begun to gain an understanding of the unique qualities of grass-based milk and are gathering data on seasonal changes that will improve our ability to manage seasonal changes in milk flavor and physical properties to improve processing quality. We are planning one final season’s data collection to zero in on the most important characteristics for grass-based milk that will allow development of a market for this unique product.

We have had a great deal of interest in the project and increasing awareness among processors of the opportunities and appropriate uses for grass-fed milk. Our publication, Grass-Based Dairy Products: Challenges and Opportunities ( continues to generate a great deal of interest in the dairy processing community and we had tripled the number of attendees at our ‘tasting event’ in 2010.

Our third objective, developing a strategy for establishment of a premium market for grass-fed milk, will be a focus of this final year. We are planning a ‘discovery session’ among processors, chefs, marketers and producers as part of our third outreach event this coming summer


Steve Young-Burns

[email protected]
General Manager
PastureLand Dairy Cooperative
26889 County 9 Boulevard
Goodhue, MN 55027
Office Phone: 6123319115
Leah Caplan

[email protected]
2115 E Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53704
Office Phone: 6082429309
Bert Paris

[email protected]
Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative
W3443 County Road W
Belleville, WI 53508
Office Phone: 6084246396
Mike Gingrich

[email protected]
Uplands Cheese Company
5023 State Road 23 North
Dodgeville, WI 53533
Office Phone: 8889355558
Bob Wills

[email protected]
Cedar Grove Cheese
PO Box 185
E5904 Mill Road
Plain, WI 53577
Office Phone: 8002006020
Dr. Ken Albrecht

[email protected]
UW Agronomy Department
1575 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082622314
Jack Kaestner

[email protected]
Executive Chef
Oconomowoc Lake Club
4668 Lake Club Circle
Oconomowoc, WI 53066
Office Phone: 2625674934
Jack Kaestner

[email protected]
Executive Chef
Oconomowoc Lake Club
4668 Lake Club Circle
Oconomowoc, WI 53066
Office Phone: 2625674934
Dr. David Combs

[email protected]
UW Dairy Science
1675 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082634844
Dr. Scott Rankin

[email protected]
UW Food Science
A203b Babcock Hall
1605 Linden Dr
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082632008