Asparagus, baby greens,
and grassy milk

April 19, 2011 · 20 comments

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For most of my life, I had no idea what it meant to eat seasonally. As far as our hometown big-box grocery store allowed, the only seasonal differentiation occurred on the candy aisle — we had peppermint sticks in December, candy corns in October, and peeps in April.

Over the past decade I’ve come to embrace seasonal eating, as has much of our middle-class, college-educated American population; it’s become cool to eat seasonally — and it tickles me pink. If something is going to be in vogue, I’d rather it be a thing that makes environmental, economic, and nutritional sense rather than the alternative (think late-90s when every upper-middle-class college freshman in the south owned an SUV).

So I can embrace March and April in the midwest for the long-awaited, beautiful resurgence of tender salad greens. I can enjoy the sales on organic kiwi and avocados at the grocery stores.  I can gobble up the radishes, look forward to a garden full of spring kale, and make my once-a-year pan of spring vegetable risotto. But one thing I’ve never included in my spring-bounty food list was odd-tasting cow’s milk.

Raise your hand if you knew that cow’s milk was seasonal (dairy farmers, you don’t count).

Me, neither.

Back in 2009, right after our move to Indiana, I began an interesting search for local cow’s milk (it involved phone numbers scrawled on scrap paper by shifty-eyed Mennonites, phones answered by quiet men with Old-Testament names, and the willingness to own a share of our very own cow — sans the option to name her). We purchased a cow share from a farm outside the city, then switched to another farm, and last fall went back to the original. The reason we did all that switching was because we wanted the cows who provide our milk to be purely grass-fed — this increases the nutrients in the milk, and allows the cows to eat as they naturally desire.

But cows can’t eat grass when the ground is frozen — so during winter months, they get hay. And this change effects the milk — but (we thought) mostly on a production scale. During months of drought or feeding transition to hay, the cows can run a bit dry, and we in turn must go without their milk.

But a few weeks ago, just as green grass began to peek out of our thawed winter tundra, and production was back up to normal, our milk had a funny taste to it. It was subtle, and different from a this-milk-is-sour taste; it was all-at-once gamey, grassy, and, well, a little funky.

The taste got stronger as the week went on and we plowed through our usual 2-gallon allotment. My 7-year old loved it, but Tim and I began referring to it as “nasty milk.” We couldn’t stomach the last half-gallon jar, and when Tim picked up our next weekly batch, he asked the farmer what was up.

Apparently, the spring grass is what’s up. During these first few weeks of eating up all those fresh greens, the chemistry of the milk changes — and ironically, the milk is at its nutritional high during this time. You can tell by the color, too (see photo above, comparing our grass-fed milk to the pale Trader Joe’s Organic on the left) — it’s the color of butter, rich in beta-carotene. In short, our milk is seasonal, and these are the precious weeks when the gettin’s good.

And oh, how I want to embrace it, because it’s hip to be seasonal. I hang my hat on it, I blog about it, I “discuss” it with unwitting, unresponsive listeners. I want that beta-carotene, want to gratefully consume the best our little cow has to offer. But this one might have to be filed away with liver — under the heading of Things I Wish I Wanted To Eat Because I So Like The Idea.

Things That I Just Can’t Stomach.

Reasons To Be Vegan For Just Two Weeks.

I Don’t Like Spring Milk And I Am OK.

My Seven-Year Old Is More Sophisticated Than I Am.

Grass-fed, Schmass-fed.


This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday, at GNOWFGLINS.

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