Yogurt: How & Why It Works

“How could this not have any fat? It’s too good!”

-George Costanza (actor Jason Alexander), Seinfeld 

          Well, George Costanza almost got it right about yogurt. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Standards, traditional and Greek yogurt have 0 grams of trans fats in a 6 ounce-serving. However, when one factors in other types of fats, beneficial and not so beneficial to human nutrition, there is 0.7 gram total fat to traditional and Greek yogurt.

              As I work now on an active farm, I’ve come to realize that there is so much more to yogurt and our food than grams of fat, calories per serving, or any other metric of nutrition.  Food becomes food sometimes beautifully, sometimes grossly as the end product of a process of transformation. Quarts of plain and vanilla yogurt at our Farm Store now started out as pasture grass, most likely a blend of timothy (Phelum pratense), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) among other species. From those green, lush leaves and stems, our herd of +40 Holstein and Jersey dairy cattle (Bos primigenius) eat steadily. When I mean steadily, I mean upwards to a range of 130 pounds (59 kilograms) of grass per day!

Once ingested, those grasses and their parts break down through steady grinding wiith flat teeth in a process called rumination, which shapes stiffer grass fibers into softer grass mushAs the mush remains softer thanks to enzymes in the cows’ saliva, the mush begins a digestive trip through the four-chambered cow stomach. Yes, you heard right. A cow does not have four stomachs, but does have four highly specialized components that change the grass mush into what we recognize as milk.

In the first chamber, the rumen, stomach juices and hundreds of species of internal bacteria further break down the cud into a softer texture. From there in the second chamber, the reticulum, more digestive juices and bacteria break down the mush into finer material called cud. This cud moves temporarily up to the mouth for further chewing (about 1 minute), before moving quickly down into the third chamber, the omasum. In the omasum, any remaining water from the grass moves into the bloodstream and urinary system of the cow. Eventually, by the fourth, final chamber, the abomasum, complete digestion takes place. Remaining nutrients for the cow move onward to the small intestine, From here, some nutrients become transported to a cow’s mammary glands and undergo internal reactions to yield milk which can be gathered from a cow’s teats.

Note, for even some digested cud to even yield milk, a cow must have given birth to a calf, as all female mammals can only produce milk after their young are born. Thus, all cows are females and why farmers call their prized cattle “girls” or “ladies.”

Now, once milk is pumped from cows’ teats, it circulates in Stonewall’s Dairy Barn, undergoing what would be expensive pasteurization but thanks to generous farm donors, we can process our milk into raw material for cheese, ice cream, and yogurt! While our cheese is made off-site at Grafton Village Cheese Company in Vermont and our ice cream is supplemented by milk from other New Hampshire farms but made on-site, our yogurt comes from milk and processing entirely here on-site.

Now comes the yogurt. After the milk becomes pasteurized, 3-4 of our hard-working staff come together to mix the milk with 100% vanilla extract, organic cane sugar, and dried milk powder to make our yogurt in a cooling vessel. For the plain yogurt, only dried milk powder is added for texture. From there, we pipe it through plastic tubing into 6-ounce and 1-quart containers with the support of a generally helpful but sometimes stubborn, steel lazy susan to rotate up to 12 containers at a time. With a sealant that gets up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, we can then seal and cap off the containers.

So, when you and hundreds of our Farm lovers and supporters drop by the Farm Store here this weekend or see our yogurt in shelves at the Monadnock Food Co-Op in Keene, you now know of the relationships that made that Stonewall Farm Yogurt possible.

Here’s a nutritional snapshot of what happens when yogurt made with solid relationships in mind between the pasture grasses, the cows, and the farmers and staff here. On average, a single serving of traditional plain yogurt will meet 18 percent of daily calcium needs; 21 percent of Vitamin B12 needs; and 34 percent of daily protein needs, all with a 6 oz. serving(!)

 As long as you can sit back, reflect, and even thank the pasture grasses, the cows, the farmers, and the relationships that made such yogurt goodness possible, that would be more than likely thanks enough for all of us. Plus, unlike George Costanza, you’d be right on knowing what truly is in that yogurt.

Much thanks to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Oregon State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Dairy Australia websites for helping enlighten me on yogurt relationships and making sense of one of the oldest, tastiest processed foods known to humankind (Homo sapiens). Feel free to write back on our Facebook page at “Stonewall Farm” with other questions, recipes, or thoughts on yogurt that come to mind for you.

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