“What do you feed the cows?”
“Ha..ha..Grass, of course, what else? That’s what cows eat…They roam free, the shepherd takes them to the pasture…”
This was the question I asked one of the several Romanian farmers I met, when I visited my home country last summer. And that was the answer he gave me, thinking probably I’m such a “city girl” I don’t even know what cows eat! :)
The sad reality is different. I know what the cows are supposed to eat. And I also know how technology, industrialization and the race for profits (and greed!) FORCED the cows to eat something different than their natural, given- from- Nature- feed. And that is far away from grass. That would be soy, corn (both mostly GMO), cottonseed meal or other commercial feeds, bakery waste, chicken manure or citrus peel cake, laced with pesticides. Cows get sick and so they are pumped up with antibiotics. Quality of meat and dairy is deplorable.
If I told this story to my ol’ farmer, he would have made the sign of the Cross three times over his chest and mentioned the Devil somewhere in his long prayer! Because feeding cows such aberrations for the sake of sustaining a growing population and make $$ millions out of it, becomes absolutely malefic.
There is a lot of information circulating now in US about grass fed animals and how beneficial their meat and milk is for humans. These have more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and a number of health-promoting fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), that may be a potent cancer fighter.
Romania has a long tradition of making some of the most delicious, high quality dairy products. Most of the small traditional farms take their cows on high pastures in the mountains, where grass is best, and so they can give nutritious, high quality milk. Cows that graze at relatively high altitudes may produce the healthiest milk of all, having even more omega3s and CLA. Plants growing in higher altitudes have more omega-3 fatty acids, fats which solidify at lower temperatures than other fats and therefore act as a form of anti-freeze. The cows eat this enriched pasture and pass the nutrients on to their milk.
At traditional farmer’s markets you can find a wide variety of grass fed cheeses for a very affordable price. Raw sheep cheese can be bought at $3.50-4.50/ LB and raw cow’s cheese at $2.50-3/ LB. And we’re talking a LOT of variety, not only the grass fed cheddar type you can mostly find in US. Cow’s raw milk (from the vending machine) costs $3.60/gallon, and goat’s raw milk is $6.40/ gallon. Raw butter, rich and tasty is only $5/ LB.
I always loved the variety of cheeses there: soft, new cheeses, aged cheeses, different textures, different tastes but all made from raw, grass fed milk and presented in their most natural way! No, you won’t find the little fancy-schmancy cheeses you’ll see in France, mixed with nuts and berries, but big, unprocessed, rich, rustic pieces of cheeses, that taste heavenly!! Sour cream tastes more like a thick cream, butter is yellow and there is no “low fat” there! Many producers keep intact ancient techniques of making cheese in a sheep’s stomach and also using pure animal rennet.
Of course there is a different story once you hit the supermarkets where big industrial farms took over (yes, they have them too) that provide lower, processed quality of dairy. Still not as bad as in US since they don’t allow GMO or animal by-products, but mass production is rearing its ugly head there too, since although cows get hay, they also might be confined and fed more grains and commercial feeds. BUT raw dairy is LEGAL as is having animals in your backyard, eat them too, give some to the neighbor and sell some as well! You’ll never be arrested for that (unless you’re selling in unsanitary conditions or mess up with the quality and then your business will be closed down and you get a fine).
Interestingly, these modest, small sized traditional farmers are proudly selling their products in the name of keeping traditions alive, making cheese the very same way their grandparents made and providing the same extraordinary taste. They are not necessarily aware of the health benefits. This is just “normal and natural” to them. The common belief is that it just tastes better..and it’s “natural”, since it comes from the traditional farmers. Well, the word “natural” still has meaning in some countries…
I was happy to see the raw milk vending machines being more and more available throughout the country. They’re still in their beginnings as per serving urban areas with raw milk, but the concept gains popularity. You put your money in, you get the milk out! How cool is that? It’s recommended you boil the milk since I don’t think they test it like our hero Mark McAfee religiously does at his farm Organic Pastures in California. But at the country side, I bet they’re drinking it straight from the udder!
Last year Romania had the worst winter in 50 years..It snowed like crazy and houses were completely covered with snow. Temperatures dropped close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit! Well, the milk vending machine froze up too..Being imported from Italy, I guess they didn’t consider the local climate during winter… Solution? The company sent a person instead to sell the milk next to the vending machine! Now that’s determination! :)
Leiber, F., M. Kreuzer, et al. (2005). Lipids 40(2): 191-202.
Hauswirth, C. B., M. R. Scheeder, and J. H. Beer. “High Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content in Alpine Cheese: The Basis for an Alpine Paradox.” Circulation 109, no. 1 (2004): 103-7.