The Pasture Buffet – or why we should favor grass-fed milk

Andrea Cavallero is a retired professor. With his tanned complexion and wiry frame he’s stayed in shape not by going to the gym but with a life spent enjoying the great outdoors.

Cavallero’s specialization is word that doesn’t exist in English, though it’s easy to understand: Alpiculture–the culture and agriculture of the mountains. He’s been teaching it for years at the Department of Agrarian Sciences and Forestry at the University of Turin.

Above all, Andrea Cavallero is a vocal supporter of pastures, a missionary spreading the word of the superior nutritional and sensory qualities of milk from pasture-raised animals.

ANDREA CAVALLERO AT CHEESE 2019

The professor will be one of the speakers at the conference Natural cheese: from pastures and breeds to raw milk and natural starters on Saturday September 21 at 11 a.m. at the CRB Auditorium.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4qvxRJHQHE

 

THE BENEFITS OF PASTURES

Animal welfare, environment, landscape, economy. For Cavallero the benefits of pastures are numerous.

“In terms of the animal, given that pastures are the typical home of herbivores, pastures mean giving animals their normal, natural food. So anything added to their diet beyond the various grasses they graze on in nature deteriorates the animals’ health. The proof of that is the fact that today diets containing large quantities of silage, cereals and integrated compound feed have dramatically and drastically reduced the productive lifespan of our animals.

Pastures also have notable territorial, environmental and scenic implications. Pastures ensure diverse vegetation, in relation to the interaction with the environmental conditions of the mountains, the hills, the Apennines. Pastures guarantee a variation in the cheese we make using the animals’ milk over time, a seasonal variation, something we should appreciate and not consider negative compared to the homogeneity of industrial cheeses. Finally, pastures make mountain landscapes more attractive from the point of view of tourism.”

Pastures of the Slow Food Presidium for Béarn High Pasture Cheeses in France. Photo: Dominique Julien.

GRASS-FED MILK

It’s strange to think that a lot of cows, sheep and goats, despite being ruminants, don’t eat their natural diet any more. What was normal in the past isn’t normal now.

“Milk from grass-fed animals was the norm in the plains, hills and mountains until 50 years ago. Then the intensification of production, the reduced number of companies operating in the mountains and hills, due to the small dimensions of these companies—they were companies which operated on a subsistence level, and weren’t able to adapt to the new world of commerce— 2:49-3:25 meant that these areas were abandoned, while production intensified down on the plains.

This intensification led to the use of cultivated cereals as forage to increase productivity, the use of integrated compound feeds to increase the production of animals, and to the abandonment of areas in the Apennines and Alps with consequent damage for their landscape, environment and economy.”

THE PASTURE BUFFET

In short, if animals could choose, they’d opt to graze in varied, biodiverse pastures, taking the essential nurtients for their own well-being from the different plants and flowers.

“If we observe how animals graze on grass, above all on polyphytic pastures where many plant species are present, we see that they will start eating one type of plant, then move to another, and then another, according to their needs. Animals looks for varied food, because the different species provide the terpenes, antioxidants, acids, vitamins, carotenes which are fundamental for their nutrition. Many of these plants, once incorporated and digested by the animal, are transformed into a series of extremely interesting substances.

Their milks and meat are diverse… in particular the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 acids is important: the optimum value is between 1 and 2, while 4 is acceptable, while milks, cheeses and meats with a ratio higher than 4 are damaging. The importance of a grass-based diets beyond doubt, because it’s healthier.”

Pastures of the Alpine Gray Cattle, a Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Alberto Peroli.

NATURAL BIODIVERSITY

Can we talk about the biodiversity of pastures? What are the differences between the mountains, the hills and the plains?

Natural pastures are rich in biodiversity. A natural pasture in the Alps may have as many as 80 different species, while in hilly area there may be 20, and 10 in the plains. And while there are differences according to the altitude, nonetheless, they are all rich, diverse vegetation.

Cultivated land, on the other hand, is poor in biodiversity. While there’s an effort to increase the number of species present, this is not always easy due to the problems of competition between the diverse species. It’s delicate work which is not normally practiced where land is cultivated.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE

I ask the professor the same question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately. A trivial question, perhaps, but it helps me to understand people. What’s your favorite cheese?

I must confess that I don’t have a favorite cheese. I love cheese from pasture-raised animals, I like to vary between cheeses from different species: I like cheeses from cows, goats and sheep. I like to alternate between fresh cheeses and mature.

In summer I buy up cheeses from pastured-raised animals, I vacuum pack them, and in winter I store them outside, from March I put them in the freezer. I don’t buy cheeses made in seasons other than summer, because I can’t be certain that the animals ate anything other than grass.

With a little work it’s possible to only eat pasture-raised cheese, and thereby support a marginal production, which makes it even more significant and important, as it favors farmers who are dedicated to the health of their animals and worthy of their land.

by Silvia Ceriani, info.eventi@slowfood.it

The pastures where the sheep of the Basque Pyrenees Mountain Cheese Presidium roam. Photo: Marco Del Comune

 

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