Your Raw Milk Should Not Taste “Barn Yardy”!

December 10, 2020

When someone is trying fresh, raw milk for the first time they will ask me,  “What will it will taste like?”  Another question I regularly hear from people who have had raw milk before but just couldn't get behind the grassy flavor of the milk they tried is, “Is raw milk supposed to taste ‘barn yardy’?” These are great questions!


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The flavor profile of raw milk is intricate and changes based on the the individual cow, where they are grazing, what their water source is, etc.  I once heard a food reformer say “Wouldn’t it be great if people had as developed pallets for raw milk as they have for wine?”

I can see it now, a group of highly sophisticated men in penny loafers surrounded by women in heels and pearls gathered around an elevated table sampling raw milk from fluted glasses. “Hummmm,” says the first in thoughtful contemplation as she swirls the sample about in her glass,  “I am detecting the rich flavor of a Jersey cow grazing on primarily clover with a hint of wild flower.”  “Yes,” says the second smattering his lips together, “And this sample has the mild notes of a Brown Swiss with the nuttiness achieved only in Alpine meadows.” Oh to live in such a world lol.

In all seriousness, though, while raw milk can have a broad flavor profile that varies throughout the year and life cycle of the cow, it should not taste “barn yardy.” But if you drink raw milk long enough you are bound to taste an off flavor every now and again so let see what causes those less than agreeable flavor profiles....

Acid:  Sour, tart, may cause tingling sensation on tongue. “Cultured milk” or “sour” odor may be present.
Cause – Growth of lactic acid producing organisms such as Lactococcus lactis, due to poor refrigeration, especially when temperatures exceed 70°F (21°C). “Malty” milks may be acid also.

Barn Yardy: Unpleasant odor and taste of a poorly maintained barn or unpleasant feed. May be perceived as “unclean.” “Cowy” may present a similar defect but generally with an unpleasant medicinal or chemical (i.e., acetone) aftertaste.
Cause – Udders not clean/dry;  absorbed, transmitted odor/flavor due to cow inhaling barn odors associated with poor ventilation and unclean barn conditions/dirty bedding. Similar defect may be due to ketosis in cows, but with more of a medicinal or chemical after taste.

Bitter: Pure bitter has no odor. Taste sensation is detected on the tongue after expectoration (delayed) and tends to persist.
Cause – enzymatic breakdown (microbial or milk enzymes) of milk proteins to short bitter peptides due to bacteria in the milk.  Certain weeds ingested by cows may also cause bitterness although this is rare.

Fruity/Fermented:  Odor and flavor is usually pronounced, similar (not exact) to pineapple, apple or strawberry. Fermented fruit (fruity); may have more of a sauerkraut or vinegar-like odor or flavor (fermented).
Cause – growth of psychrotrophic spoilage bacteria, especially certain psychrotrophic Pseudomonas species or some of the spore-forming organisms (e.g., Bacillus, Paenibacillus). 

Malty: Malt-like aroma or taste (like malted milk or Grape-Nuts®). May be similar to feed or cooked odors, but is considered a severe defect as microbial spoilage. Milk often is acidic as well.
Cause – Growth of Lactococcus lactis var. maltigenes (or possibly other organisms) due to poor refrigeration. May be followed by “acid” or “unclean” flavors.

Salty:  No odor. Generally easily detected.
Cause – associated with late lactation or mastitic cows.  

{Tastes and Causes Taken from 3 Cow Marketing}

Did you notice a theme....many of the funky flavors in milk are related to some sort of contamination from bacteria. An unwashed udder, build up in milking equipment, dirty jars, dairy milking area....you get the idea. The other big culprit in off flavors is the milk not being kept cool enough. You want to keep your milk around 40 degrees. This is why we recommend bringing a cooler to pick up your milk for your drive home...it keeps it tasting fresher.

Speaking of fresh - that is exactly what raw milk should taste like...fresh, creamy goodness. If you are accustomed to pasteurized milk, it may take you a bit to get used to fresh milk. But after having it a couple times you should be in love and having to use self restraint to not drink a half gallon at once (hehe).  Drinking raw milk should not require gathering up your resolve as you tell your kids, “Well, this is supposed to be good for us so bottoms up and plug your noses.”

If ever you do try milk from Our Family Farm that has an off flavor, PLEASE LET US KNOW. We will replace it and figure out what caused it.  It is feed back like this that helps us make sure we are doing a good job and identify and fix issues as they come up.  

So with that, may all your fresh raw milk be delicious and abundant in nutrition that brings you and your children robust health for many years!

Savannah Hartman

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