When was the last time you picked up a carton of camel milk at the grocery store? Yak milk? I'm going to guess never
—which leads me (and Slate
) to wonder: why is it, with over 6,000 milk-producing mammal species in the world, Americans get 97% of all our dairy from cows? Is it taste? Historical habits? Industrial convenience? Well, a little of each.
The three dairy animals most familiar to Westerners—sheep, goats, and cows—were all domesticated between 10,000 B.C. and 8000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent. Cows responded the best to centuries' worth of breeding, which is why they're now relatively docile animals with high milk outputs. But the quality and unique characteristics of cow's milk also contributed to its dominance. According to Slate
Cow's milk has some real aesthetic and practical advantages: It separates itself into cream and milk, so it can be made into an easily drinkable beverage as well as all the luscious cream-based comestibles, such as ice cream and crème fraîche. Its fat content is similar to that of human milk, which makes it familiar to our palates, and its relative blandness makes it an attractive blank slate for the creation of cheeses with a range of flavor profiles and consistencies, from runny Camemberts to rock-hard Goudas.
And this is really the reason we rely on cow's milk. With the exception of goat's milk (as we noted earlier this week
), most other milks, even if they taste good, are too hard to come by: a typical camel only produces around two gallons of milk a day in two 90-second long bursts; water buffalo milk has been essential in Indian cuisine for over 1,000 years, but water buffalos are huge (and potentially dangerous) animals, so they're notoriously difficult to milk, as are pigs; and sheep's milk has twice the fat content as cow's milk, so while it's great for cheese, it's almost unpalatable as a beverage.
Have you ever tried non-cow milk? What are your thoughts?
Read More: Others' Milk at Slate
Related: The Other White Milk: Goat's Milk
(Image: Sarah Rae Trover)