Enjoying Dairy FAQ

We’ve got the scoop on commonly asked questions about types of dairy foods, cooking and storing dairy, and milk safety.

Types of Cow’s Milk

Humans have been drinking cow’s milk (and the milk of other mammals) for several thousand years. It’s part of our shared existence, and for good reason: our ancestors figured out a long time ago that milk is nutrient-rich and offered benefits like alleviating hunger and supporting wellness. Today, there are so many more unique ways to enjoy dairy!

In terms of quality, safety and nutrition, there’s no difference between organic and regular milk. The difference is how they are produced on the farm. Strict government standards ensure that both regular and organic milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious.

Farmers who choose to be organic must maintain specific standards set in place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All dairy farmers work hard to provide fresh dairy foods to their communities and provide high quality care for their cows. 

There is only preliminary science to support the theory that A2 milk has additional health benefits to regular cow’s milk.

A2 milk is a type of milk from certain dairy cows that produce milk highly concentrated in A2 beta casein, which is a type of dairy protein. All milk contains a protein called beta casein, which has two common forms: A1 and A2. While regular milk contains both forms of beta casein, A2 milk only contains the A2 beta casein, which is thought to be easier to digest, however, the A2 milk concept will remain a theory until there is more science to support it.

All of these choices are 100% real cow’s milk. Types of milk vary by percentage of milkfat, or the amount of fat that is in the milk by weight.

Whole milk contains 3.25% fat by weight — the closest to the way it comes out of the cow. There are also other options for those who have different taste preferences or health needs, including reduced fat (2%), low fat (1%) and fat free milk. While the amount of milkfat does affect the number of calories and fat in each serving, all milk remains a naturally nutrient-rich and wholesome food packed with thirteen essential nutrients.

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk that can be difficult for some people to digest if their body does not naturally produce lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in the body. Lactose-free milk is real cow’s milk that does not contain lactose. It is created by adding lactase to regular milk to break down the lactose. Lactose-free milk contains the same thirteen essential nutrients as regular milk and is a nutritious and wholesome way for people with lactose intolerance to enjoy real dairy.

Ultra-filtered milk is real cow’s milk. The ultra-filtration process involves passing milk through a thin, porous membrane to separate its five components: water, vitamins and minerals, lactose/carbohydrates, protein, and butterfat. Dairy companies then recombine those parts in different percentages to make beverages that contain, for example, more protein and calcium or less sugar, etc.

Ultra-pasteurization is different from standard pasteurization because it heats real cow’s milk to a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time. Due to the high heat used, ultra-pasteurized milk has an extended shelf life and sometimes has a ‘cooked’ flavor. This type of milk can be stored for 30-90 days under refrigerated conditions, and is good for 7-10 days after opening when kept in a refrigerator at 34-38°F.

Both pasteurization methods require milk to be bottled in sterilized conditions to prevent contamination. Some companies choose to bottle ultra-pasteurized milk in special aseptic packaging, which makes the milk shelf-stable.

The milk you choose is based on personal preference. You can feel good knowing that all cow’s milk — from whole to fat free, organic or lactose-free, ultra-filtered or ultra-pasteurized — is nutritious and responsibly produced.

Whey is one of the two major proteins found in cow’s milk. During the cheesemaking process, enzymes are added to milk, causing it to separate into curds (which are used to make cheese) and liquid whey. Whey protein is then pasteurized and dried so that it can be used in certain foods or sold on its own. Whey is a great source of high-quality protein for individuals looking to increase their protein intake, like athletes, older adults, etc. To learn more, visit USDairy.com

Quark is a soft cheese, with a smooth texture and mild flavor, that looks similar to thick white yogurt. It can be made from whole, low fat or skim milk and is commonly eaten in Scandinavian and German-speaking countries, and more recently, can be found in the U.S. To learn more, visit USDairy.com

Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that is slightly thick and has a tart flavor. Kefir is made by adding kefir grains or starter cultures derived from kefir grains to milk to initiate fermentation of lactose and yeast. There are many potential health benefits linked to consumption of kefir, but further research is needed; however, drinking kefir is a great way add more dairy to your diet. To learn more, visit USDairy.com

Clarified butter is pure butterfat that is made by heating up regular butter to separate the water and milk solids and then removing the water. Clarified butter has a longer shelf life than regular butter and also has a higher smoke point, which means you can heat it to a higher temperature without burning it. To learn more, visit USDairy.com

Ghee is clarified butter (pure butterfat) that is cooked a bit longer to add flavor. It is made by cooking clarified butter until the milk solids begin to brown and then draining the milk solids, leaving behind a rich and nutty tasting substance that is perfect for frying or sautéing foods due to it’s high smoke point. To learn more, visit USDairy.com

Cheese tea is the newest tea trend that originated in Asia and is gaining worldwide popularity. The drink consists of black or green tea topped with sweet and salty foam, made from a combination of cream cheese and whipped cream. It can be served hot or cold and comes in a variety of flavors!

Moon milk is simply milk that is heated up and combined with natural flavorings like honey and fruit and infused with herbs and spices. Many people drink this warm  and delicious beverage to relax before bed, but there is no substantial research to indicate that the drink actually helps people sleep.

Whipped coffee is the latest coffee beverage trend! The drink is made of instant coffee, sugar and water that is mixed together until it reaches a whipped consistency and then placed atop a glass of iced milk. Watch this video for a full tutorial:

Cooking with Dairy

Yes! Reduce the amount of oil in a recipe by substituting half of the amount of oil it calls for with 3/4 the amount of yogurt. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of oil, substitute 1/2 cup of oil with 3/4 cup of yogurt. 

Yes! Add richness, tenderness and moisture to bread dough and other baked goods by replacing water with milk or add milk to canned or packaged soups for a creamier texture and added nutrition benefits. 

Buttermilk is slightly acidic, making it a great ingredient to keep baked goods moist and tender. For a quick buttermilk substitute, mix 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and let sit for five to ten minutes before using.

It simply depends! Salted butter produced by different manufacturers has varying amounts of salt, so using unsalted butter allows you to have complete control over the amount of salt used in your recipe. When cooking, if a recipe calls for butter and salt to taste, it is most likely safe to use salted or unsalted butter, depending on how much salt you would like in the dish. When baking, if a recipe calls for butter and salt, it is safe to assume that unsalted butter should be used.

Melt butter over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil. As the fats begin to brown, stir the butter until it turns amber in color and remove from heat. Watch this video for a full tutorial:

Storage & Handling

Manufacturers use a variety of expiration date labels to communicate information to retailers and consumers. It is important to note that the date stamped on a perishable food item is meant for best quality, but cannot be relied on as an indicator of food safety.

“Sell by” date: For retailers to determine how long to display the product for sale or when they should take it off the store shelves and for consumers to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. However, it does not mean that the food is no longer safe to consume. For maximum quality, buy the product before this date.

“Use by” date: Intended for consumers, it’s the last date recommended for use of the product at its peak quality. Even if the date expires during home storage, the product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled and stored properly.

“Best if used by” date: Recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. For example, a product may be safe to eat beyond this date, but may not be of highest quality.

To ensure that your milk stays fresh for as long as possible, do not store milk in the refrigerator door. Food products stored in the refrigerator door are more susceptible to warm air, which can cause food to go bad faster. Store milk safely below 40°F in the main compartment of the refrigerator.

Dairy products are perishable foods and should not be left sitting unrefrigerated for longer than two hours. If the temperature is above 90°F, they should not set out for more than one hour. Dairy foods should always be stored at 40°F or below and refrigerated as soon as possible.

It’s okay to leave butter out sometimes, depending on a few factors. Because salt is a natural preservative, salted butter is less prone to going bad when sitting out. The amount of salt in salted butter can vary by brand, but if it has more salt, you can leave it out for a day or two. Just remember to use it quickly, store it in an airtight container and protect it from light and heat sources. If you prefer unsalted or whipped butter, it should be refrigerated at all times. If your house temperature is above 70°F, all butter should be refrigerated! For more information, visit USDairy.com

Dairy foods can be frozen, but freezing foods like milk, cheese and yogurt may change their look and texture. While they are still safe to consume, it’s best to use frozen dairy foods as an ingredient in cooking, rather than consuming them straight. When freezing dairy foods, make sure to use an airtight container and remember that milk will expand, so leave 1/2 inch of headspace.

Milk Safety

Cows sometimes get sick and require medicine, but their milk does not go into the milk supply. If milk tests positive for antibiotics, it is disposed of according to state regulations and never enters the food stream. 

Hormones are naturally present in many foods of plant and animal origin, including milk. Some farmers choose to supplement some of their cows with rbST, an FDA-approved synthetic protein hormone, to help increase milk production. Science shows that it is safe for cows and has no effect on humans or the hormone levels in the milk itself.

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No. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published research in 2016 from nearly 900 studies, concluding that genetically modified (GMO) crops are safe. Some cows eat feed containing GMO corn or soybeans which cows digest the same way as they do non-GMO plants. Genetically engineered DNA has never been detected in milk from cows fed GMO plants. 

Pesticides are used sparingly in crop production and do not pose a health concern in U.S. dairy products. Sensitive monitoring equipment can detect residues at levels far lower than those that pose a health risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has strict regulations about farm practices involving the use of pesticides, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitor foods for pesticides. Dairy farmers consistently meet or exceed these regulations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend drinking only pasteurized milk. Raw milk can contain harmful disease-causing pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, and others. Illnesses caused by these bacteria can be especially problematic for infants, young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. But healthy people of any age can also get sick.

Rinds of many soft or semisoft cheeses are safe to eat! They are typically velvety white, gray or yellow in color and often have a pungent flavor. Wax or plastic packaging is not edible and should be thrown away.

If hard cheeses start to grow mold, cut it off about 1/2 inch below the mold line and the rest of the cheese is safe to eat. If soft cheeses develop mold or are past their expiration date, they should be thrown away.

When opening yogurt or sour cream, you may see a thin layer of clear liquid on top of the thick substance below. The liquid is whey, which can sometimes become separated from the yogurt or sour cream. Whey is safe to eat and filled with protein, calcium and probiotics, so don’t pour it out! If you don’t like the looks of it, simply stir it into the yogurt or sour cream and enjoy.

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