Spring is here: finally time to head out into the fresh air. Although the cows are interested less in what they are breathing in, and more in the fresh, juicy grass on the pasture. And this has an impact on the raw material they produce: milk.
If you’ve ever stopped off at an alpine hut in summer for a snack of bread, cheese and butter, you’ll probably have noticed that the butter is yellower than what you usually find in the fridge. The slightly golden hue is not a trick of the light, nor is it down to the butter being faintly rancid because the alpine hut does not have a fridge. Quite the opposite in fact, it’s especially fresh and tasty.
The change in colour is caused by the feed that the cows eat. When they are let out onto green pastures again in April, the cows eat fresh grass instead of the dry hay they get in winter. This fresh grass contains a natural plant pigment – beta carotene – which is also found in orange and yellow fruit and vegetables such as carrots (Latin: carota), in dark green vegetables and of course in grasses.
Pigment is lost during drying
Grass-fed cows produce milk that contains beta carotene, which is fat-soluble and thus accumulates in the milk fat, giving it a yellow tinge. In winter, cows mainly feed on hay, which although made from the same grass contains less beta carotene because the pigment breaks down during the drying process. That’s why butter is yellower in summer than in winter.
But does summer milk taste better than winter milk? You will find various opinions online, many claiming that milk from cows who grazed on fresh, juicy grass is richer and creamier. Emmi food engineer Thomas Büeler disagrees. For him, the taste is every bit as exquisite regardless of the season. Incidentally, alpine cheese is always a beautiful yellow colour too, since it is only produced in summer. Kaltbach Engadiner Bergkäse is not actually an alpine cheese, even though the cows graze at around 2,000 metres above sea level. It does have a similar character, however, and is also matured for several months in the sandstone caves of Kaltbach. Plus it’s absolutely delicious, regardless of whether it is made with summer or winter milk.