Asparagus, baby greens, and grassy milk

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.

20 thoughts on “Asparagus, baby greens, and grassy milk

    1. Molly, do you make your own, or is the store-bought cheese also seasonal? I haven’t made goat cheese yet, but I have a friend w/ goats, so maybe now’s the time to experiment?

  1. Got me to thinking about the possibility of seasonal human breast milk. If the quality of breast milk improves seasonally if the lactating mother eats seasonally . . .

    1. Good question, Cheryl. I remember once during my oldest’s nursing strike, my lactation consultant suggested I was eating something she didn’t like — so the flavor definitely changes!

  2. I grew up on a Mennonite dairy farm, so I guess I don’t count, BUT, I will share that I myself never noticed the taste of grassy milk as a kid and then, ’round about high school, started noticing and not enjoying it. Hmm.

    I always wanted to buy the t-shirt I saw in my dad’s dairy magazine: Get high on milk. Our cows are on grass.

    1. Ok, I would totally buy that t-shirt.

      That’s really interesting about your not noticing the taste until you were a teen. I wonder if there is something about the young tastebud that doesn’t really register the flavor? But she won’t drink storebought milk — says it tastes like “rotten chicken” (seems a bit extreme to me, but that’s her claim!).

      My 5-yo loves liver, but won’t eat things as benign as butter. So maybe gaminess isn’t as potentially offensive to kids?

  3. Our favorite local dairy in Princeton had ice cream so fresh it was gamey, but I never noticed that the gaminess varied based on season. Makes sense, though. If you can’t stomach the grassy milk, maybe you should make ice cream with enough other flavors to mask the grass!

    By the way, if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check out the cookbook “Simply in Season” by the same publisher as “More With Less”. It should be available locally at Ten Thousand Villages, or you can get it online. The recipes are organized by season and although it shares the spirit of MWL, the recipes are generally more sophisticated; my favorite is a vegetarian stroganoff with shiitake mushrooms, and Annika’s favorite is a very simple creamy pesto pasta. There are still a few “bakes”, though! (Chad and I grew up Mennonite so we enjoyed your shout-out post!)

    1. Jodi, I did make yogurt with the leftover half-gallon — and I haven’t tried it yet to see if it’s gamey; but if it is, I plan to make frozen yogurt with it (with strong flavors, like sour cherry).

      Simply in Season has been in my to-buy list for, well, ever. Not sure why I’ve not gotten around to getting it — it’s been recommended by several, I love the concept, and I clearly have a fondness for Mennonite cookbooks ; ) I’ve also warmed a bit to the terminology, actually writing the word “skillet” as a dish, on occasion, in our weekly menu notebook!

  4. For a year or two my husband worked extra hours at a dairy farm and one of the lovely benefits was that he brought home a quart of milk each week. It took a bit to get used to but I do remember truly enjoying that “grassy” flavor. Of course I had incentive to like it as I was pregnant at the time. I felt good about giving my baby all those extra nutrients.

    1. Beth, I wish you could’ve tasted this. It went beyond grassy — it was this really bizarre flavor that we couldn’t even describe. Very strong — but maybe I too would’ve enjoyed it if I was pregnant?

      1. Truth be told I don’t recall it looking as buttery/beta-caroteney as the photo above. While I definitely remember the grassy taste, maybe your milk is super-charged compared to the stuff I had. I do kind of hate it that I’m now used to drinking store-brand organic milk again. Makes me want to investigate this whole cow share process. I’ll just add that to my list…

  5. As a child, growing up in “the country

    As a child, growing up in the “country”, I always knew that springtime was the time to drink “store-bought” milk. There is a weed (grass?) which grows in pastures here that is called “stink-weed”. Talk about YUKKY milk!!!

    1. How funny, Mom! Now I have to wonder if our cow had been grazing on the so-called “stink-week.” That’s about how I would describe it.

  6. Hi Katy,
    I’ve done homemade cheese, but not with goat’s milk. It’s pretty expensive, actually, so if you have a friend willing to pass some your way I would take her up on it. I learned about goat cheeses in a cheese certification course I took last spring as part of my master’s in gastronomy and food studies. The instructor, Ihsan, who owns a wonderful store called Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA, actually talked about green pastures and goat cheeses the very first class. Then in May, the class journeyed to two goat cheese farms in Vermont.

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