DATCP: New publication offers real world lessons for marketing grass-fed dairy products

Contact: Laura Paine 608-224-5120

MADISON — Grass-based Dairy Products: Challenges and Opportunities, a new publication authored by the grazing specialist at the state agriculture department, offers lessons from 11 dairy marketers using grass-fed milk in their products.

Dairy artisans use unique recipes and sometimes unique raw ingredients to make their products special. Grass-fed milk, or milk from cows that graze fresh pasture, may be one of those ingredients. It’s gaining popularity for its unique flavor, color, and physical properties, says Laura Paine, grazing specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems published the document.

One of the best known among the new grass-fed products is Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese made by Uplands Cheese Company near Dodgeville. Dairy farmers Mike Gingrich and Dan Patenaude developed this cheese in 2001 after researching European cheeses from traditional grass-based dairies in the Alps.

“Mike and Dan have a great success story,” Paine said. “They came up with a cheese recipe that complements the flavor and texture of grass-fed milk. Their cheese won ‘Best of Show’ the first time they entered it in the American Cheese Society contest. That got them off to a good start!”

Not all of the marketing efforts summarized in the publication have gone so well. Some have struggled to gain a foothold in the marketplace and one or two didn’t survive. The process of pooling milk from multiple grass-based dairies, getting it to a processing plant, making a consistent, high quality product, and getting it onto store shelves has proved challenging for some of these mostly farmer-owned companies.

“My goal with this publication was to help this fledgling sector grow by allowing them to learn from both the successes and the challenges that others have had,” said Paine. “This is how the grazing community has built its collective grazing skills. Now we can help each other build the market side of the industry.”

Paine is also coordinating a three-year research project to investigate the differences between grass-fed and conventional milk. “Processors who have worked with pasture milk know that it looks, handles, and tastes different,” she said. “Our goal is to characterize those differences and match this specialty milk to the types of products that are best suited to it.”

The research team includes some of the farmer-marketers highlighted in the publication, plus University of Wisconsin forage, dairy, and food scientists. “We’re also working with two chefs who are helping us understand the culinary differences of grass-fed milk,” said Paine. “With the research project and the publication, we’re hoping to build a strong foundation for a grass-fed dairy market.”

For a free copy of the publication or for more information on the research, contact Paine at 608-224-5120 or [email protected]. The publication is also available on line from the CIAS website (http://www.cias.wisc.edu, search for grass-based dairy).