garden month, we're exploring the backyard diet of the ruminants that make the cheese we love. What exactly does grass-fed mean? And if a product is made from grass-fed milk is it necessarily better? Unfortunately, even though "grass-fed" has become as popular a buzzword as "organic" in recent years, the use of the term isn't highly regulated and doesn't dictate much of anything. We've found it thrown about as freely as ever, used as much as for a marketing tool as for an indication of quality. If you're lucky enough to buy your cheese directly from the farmer or at a venerable retail shop that has close relationships with cheesemakers, know the questions to ask:
- How many hours per day is the herd out to graze? Grass-fed doesn't mean that herd is outside actively grazing. A farmer can use the term if the closest look his herd has had at an actual fresh blade of grass if from an overcrowded feed lot, where they're eating hay supplemented with a cocktail of grains, corn, and other additives.
- How often is the cow fed grass? Newborns are often let out to graze on pasture but are then later confined and restricted to a poor diet. Look out for a new term we've been hearing that refers more to meat than to cheese, "grass-finished," which means that the animal ate grass throughout the entirety of its life.
- Is the farm practicing organic? Just because the animal is grass-fed doesn't mean that they're not consuming industrial pesticides.