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Extended lactation could make better cheese

Danish researchers show that despite fears the practice could harm milk quality it may actually be better

Extending dairy cow lactation periods by up to six months not only can lower the environmental impact of the industry — it just might make better cheese too.

That’s according to some recent research by Danish scientists who decided to put long-standing concerns over the practice to an empirical test.

They found an expected decrease in total milk production over time, but found at the same time the level of protein and fat increased — thus making the milk more suitable for cheese making.

The original concerns were based on old studies dating back decades, which failed to take into account improvements in production practices over time, said Nina Aagaard Poulsen, an assistant professor with the department of food science at Aarhus University.

A PhD student compared milk samples from different stages of lactation — focusing specifically on taste and the properties making milk suitable for cheese production.

To determine whether taste was affected they used a professional taste panel to investigate whether the extended lactation strategy affects the taste of the milk.

Previous investigations have indicated that milk from cows in extended lactation may have an undesirable and ‘salty’ taste.

The taste panel did not find any discernable flavour differences, but did note the mouth feel of the milk was different, with later-lactation milk being more creamy and noticeably higher in fat content.

In other words, there is no reason to fear that milk quality is reduced by extended lactation. The composition of the milk, cheese-making properties and taste all remain intact or are even improved.

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