Ask a Farmer: What are the different types of dairy milk?

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Bill Deutsch is a fifth generation dairy and grain farmer. He milks cows and grows corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Bill and his wife reside on the family farm in rural Sycamore.

Q: What are the different types of dairy milk?

A: My cows produce whole milk. In the dairy case you will find whole milk, 2%, 1% and skim milk.

The difference in types of dairy milk is in the fat content. All milk starts as whole milk but once the cream is separated off the fat is removed. For example, less fat is removed in whole milk and more fat is removed in 1% milk.

In the store, whole milk is 3.5% fat. Next is 2% milk, which is the most popular. It’s 2% fat or think of it as being 98% fat free. The next is 1% or low-fat milk with only 1% fat. Then there is skim milk also known as fat-free milk or 0% fat.

Milk choice, based on fat content, is a personal preference although new research indicates the benefits of higher fat dairy products in the diet.
Whole milk or milk that comes from the cow can have varying milk fat content due to genetics, breed, and volume of milk produced. Many times the color breeds, especially Jerseys, give higher components of fat and protein than the more common Holstein cow. On our farm, we have both Holstein as well as Brown Swiss cows so our average components are a little over 4.5% fat and 3.5% protein in our cows’ milk. Growing up on our farm, I always drank high fat, whole milk. In our family of six, not everyone agreed on the same type of milk. So we would have whole milk, 2%, and skim milk in the refrigerator. Sometimes I would bring milk in from the bulk tank (4% fat) for me to drink.

Another difference in dairy milk is in the amount of protein. Some dairy companies are increasing the protein level based on consumer preference. More protein is beneficial for the elderly and people who are extremely athletic and working out a lot. It does give the milk a little bit better flavor sometimes, but that’s a personal preference. In some milk they remove certain proteins such as lactose to create lactose-free milk for those who are lactose-intolerant. Flavored milk is another type of dairy milk with chocolate being the most common flavor added.

In the dairy case you will see both organic and non-organic milk. The difference is USDA certified organic milk must come from cows not given hormones or antibiotics and from cows that have been fed 30% of their diet on pasture. To a person this may sound good but there are some flaws in this logic.

For example, this time of year there’s not much pasture available. Secondly, all milk is antibiotic free; it’s illegal to sell milk with antibiotics in it. I use antibiotics to treat cows only when they are sick–I want my cows to be healthy! Also, cows naturally produce hormones on a daily basis.

Consumers should be aware of some misleading labels such as milk brands stating their milk is antibiotic free. This statement is definitely misleading since all milk is antibiotic free. The dairy industry is trying to expose some of these with the campaign called “Peel Back The Label” to inform consumers of some of the misleading messaging on the labels of dairy products.

Finally, another milk product is UHT milk (Ultra High Temp pasteurization). This milk is pasteurized at about 275° for 1 to 2 seconds. This allows for a longer shelf life, up to six months in refrigeration. The same technology with a variation is UHT in aseptic packaging. UHT milk is placed in a sterile package which allows for storage at room temperature. I first heard of UHT milk in aseptic packaging being used in Desert Storm. It can be transported to other countries or used domestically and doesn’t require refrigeration.

Hey, with all this talk about milk, I think it’s time for me to have a glass of whole milk–with a chocolate chip cookie!

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