In an effort to breed animals that thrive on our farm and meet our demanding requirements for milk quality, we have cross-bred nine different types of cows in our herd. Ours is a closed herd, which means that we use our own bulls and raise our own calves without buying any outside cows. This way, our herd is continually evolving to become better suited to our farm and each successive generation has more of the characteristics that we, as graziers and cheesemakers, value.
Some of the first things we look for in a cow are her physical characteristics. Because a cow on our farm spends her life outside grazing pasture, she needs to be athletic and robust. This often isn’t the case with modern cows, who are bred with the assumption that they’ll live a sedentary life in a barn. As the modern Holstein is becoming ever larger, we breed less for size than for mobility and efficiency in converting grass into milk. So we have crossed larger breeds, like Holsteins and Brown Swiss, with smaller ones, such as Jersey and Tarentaise.
Another focus of our breeding is the goal of supplying our creamery with ideal milk for making Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Beyond the requirement of a grass diet for the cheese milk, we are also looking for a particular balance in the major components of our milk (fat and protein) as well as flavor complexity.
Each breed gives milk that is different in its amounts and types of fat, protein, minerals and vitamins. This is due to a combination of genetic disposition with hundreds of years of selective breeding, and the result is that not all milks are equally suited to all types of cheese. This, like the flavor of grass fed milk, is a fact often lost among modernity’s emphasis on volume and efficiency, but certain cheese makers in both the new and old worlds still recognize this.
The milk from our crossbred herd inherently contains a more diverse range of sizes and types of fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. As our cheeses age, this diversity enables a wider range of interactions among the microflora in the cheese and on the rind, which in turn generate a more complex array of flavors. Complexity breeds complexity. So our cheese making actually starts a long time before the milk hits the vat, with the selective crossbreeding of our unique herd.