Canadians passionate about nutritional and flavourful benefits of pastured cattle at last have a glass of milk to drink alongside their grass-fed steak.
This month marks the Ontario launch of Rolling Meadow Dairy, which aims to become Canada's first large-scale producer of pasture-based milk and butter.
Don't all cows eat grass? Yes, but the question is how much. Traditional dairy farmers supplement cows' natural grass diet with corn, which keeps milk production high but alters the nutritional and flavour profiles of the milk.
At Rolling Meadow, the emphasis is on grass. Cattle must spend a minimum of 150 days on pasture per year, for at least 12 hours each day. Farmers must eliminate grain corn from feed, although cattle are permitted fermented grass and whole-plant corn (known as corn silage) as well as a small amount of oats. All feed must be non-GMO.
To see if it was making a difference, Matthew von Teichman, president and CEO of Rolling Meadow, has sent several samples of milk to the University of Toronto's Dr. Richard Bazinet, a professor of nutrition who holds a Canada Research Chair in brain lipid metabolism.
"The samples we've tested have featured a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats that's about three times better than traditional milk," says Bazinet.
Will consumers notice a difference? In the glass, Rolling Meadow milk has an ivory hue, most likely due to carotenoids and other organic compounds, according to Bazinet.
As for flavour, the differences are subtle, but the pasture-based milk has a deeper, rounder profile and is less cloyingly sweet than standard milk, at least to my palate.
To get a better read, I consulted a three-glass-a-day milk connoisseur – my five-year-old daughter, Violet.
"There's a big difference, Daddy," she said. Pointing to the conventional milk, she said, "This one tastes like water." "And this," she said, now pointing to the glass of Rolling Meadow, "tastes more like milk."
Rolling Meadow launched in Ontario in Whole Foods on Aug. 9 and is also available at some Loblaws and Sobeys locations, as well as other natural-food stores. There are currently seven farmers active in the program, with 15 scheduled to join.
"For the moment, we're just in Ontario and soon in parts of Quebec," says von Teichman.
"But it's our eventual hope to offer pasture-based milk to Canadians in every province and territory."