Chester County Ag Notes: Milky Musings for National Dairy Month

Few other food groups have been the subject of intrigue and controversy the way milk has been.--photo via

Surely one of the pleasures of summer is enjoying a cool drink of milk at home or an ice cream at the shore. Perhaps that was the reason why June was declared National Dairy Month way back in 1937 to remind us of the many products that are based on milk. The intention was also to remind consumers of the dairy farmers who have to milk their dairy cows every single day of the year. Few other basic foods have witnessed so many developments and been the subject of such controversy. Let’s face it so few other foods are so connected to both health and pleasure.

“From a nutrition perspective milk is almost perfect” explains Dr. Kerry E.Kaylegian, Dairy Foods Research and Extension Associate in the Dept. of Food Science at Penn State University. In fact milk and honey are the two perfect natural foods providing the complete nutrition for mammals. This was recognized in the Old Testament with 20 references to “the land flowing with milk and honey” conjuring up a picture of a rich, fertile and desirable land.

Milk contains complete proteins, good quality fat for healthy energy and lots of minerals and vitamins. We should not forget that it contains around 87% water. We need plenty of water particularly in the summer so drinking milk contributes to the eight glasses of water we are advised to drink each day.

USDA recommends that we consume 3 cups of milk each day or the equivalent in yogurt, cheese and ice cream. It is recommended that we chose low fat milk.   All milk, even skim milk, is fortified with additional Vitamin D as it is important for the formation, growth and repair of our bones, in calcium absorption and our immune function. 

Whole milk (3.5% fat) sales have been declining and most of the milk we drink today is 2% or 1% fat, but parents are advised to give whole milk (3.5%) to their young children as they need the fat for their growing bodies. Interestingly we also tend to eat less if we eat higher fat products as they are more satisfying. Skim milk, the result of centrifuging to separate out the fat so only 0.1-0.5% is left, has been growing in popularity mainly for health reasons. However recent long term (17 years) research has indicated that people drinking milk gained less weight than those who drank skim milk.  Think of milk and dairy products for their energy component and for supplying so many critical nutrients our bodies need.

Milk is a combination of fats, proteins and water so homogenization ensures that the fat globules are suspended so that the milk is more consistent in texture. Virtually all milk is not only homogenized but also pasteurized. This process of heating milk kills spoilage and harmful bacteria so that the final product is safer and has longer shelf life without affecting any of the beneficial components. Raw unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria which cause numerous foodborne illnesses. Raw milk is not allowed in several states. The retail and on-farm sales of raw milk is allowed in Pennsylvania but 20 sates ban all raw milk sales and the US FDA bans the interstate sales and distribution of raw milk.  

Ice cream sales are historically lower but yogurt sales are enjoying increasing popularity with the proliferation of different fruit flavors and toppings. Cheese sales continue to increase due to their greater use in pizzas and other prepared foods. Local artisan cheeses are still low volume but increasingly popular. Chester County Cheese Artisans (website) offer a range of cow, goat and even sheep cheese and several of our cheesemakers are winning awards for their very high quality products.

Finally a word about our 275 dairy farms in Chester County which produce enough milk to supply not only the 510,000 people living in Chester County but several hundred residents in nearby counties and states. Their work is hard as cows must be milked twice every day of the year – you cannot turn off the milk tap! Cow comfort and the purity and safety of the milk supply are their major concern.          


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