A small group of Wisconsin dairy farmers is seeking to change the way Americans get more nutritious fatty acids in their diets – a change that could potentially lead to less arthritis for older folks, less depression in children, and improved memory for the rest of us. And they’re doing so by feeding their cows a patented diet that results in special milk made into pretty darned good cheese.
Omega Valley Farmers, headquartered in the thriving central-Wisconsin metropolis of Dorchester (population 872), quietly launched its line of Omega 3 Cheeses three years ago in several Heartland Cooperative convenience stores. Now the group is building momentum and branching out to larger retailers, meaning the cheese is now available near me in Metcalfe’s Markets in Madison and Milwaukee. Whoo-hoo!
Crafted by Master Cheesemaker Ken Heiman at Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield, the Omega 3 Cheeses come in a line of Cheddar and flavored Monterey Jacks, but gouda, muenster, and provolone will be soon be available. The cheese is made from the milk of five family-owned dairy farms in central Wisconsin, four of which milk between 50 and 70 cows, with the fifth milking 500 cows. All are committed to producing rBST-free milk, meaning they do not inject their cows with artificial hormones to increase milk production.
All farms are are audited by a third party annually for humane animal treatment, and each feeds their cows a diet patented by Jerome Donohoe, who retired after spending 32 years with the Medical College of Wisconsin to start his own company conducting research on animal feeding systems. Donohoe’s now-famous feed ration naturally increases the amount of natural Omega 3 fatty acids in cows’ milk through a strategic balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids, using only agricultural plant products and no fish meal or animal byproducts.
The result from the patented diet is a cheese that transcends the good-for-you labels of organic, grass-fed and GMO-free and actually delivers more Omega 3’s per ounce than any other cheese on the market. An adequate intake of Omega 3 for an adult is about 1,600 mg per day. One ounce of Omega Valley Cheddar contains 390 mg and an ounce of Omega Valley Jack has 415 mg. Add a few crackers, and all of us could get all the Omega 3s we need every day just by eating 4 oz of Omega Valley cheese.
And, interestingly enough, not only is the milk produced by these special cows turned into cheese that is super healthy, the cows themselves are healthier, too. After just 100 days on a diet with balanced Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, cows’ hearts and livers measured higher in nutritious fatty acids, translating to longer, healthier lives. One farmer I talked to said his veterinarian bills were half of what they were before he started the feeding program.
Healthy cows, healthy milk and healthy cheese are all great, but as a cheesemonger, what matters most to me is flavor. Does the cheese taste good? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is Omega 3 Cheeses are made at a nationally-recognized factory supervised by one of only 50 Master Cheesemakers in Wisconsin, so of course they are going to be high quality. The cheeses are also less expensive than similar cheeses with trendier labels. For example, a 7-oz square of Horseradish & Chive Jack is $5.99 – not a bad price for a health-filled food.
So the next time you’re watching for what’s new in the cheese department, look for Omega 3 Cheeses. You’ll be supporting a great group of Wisconsin dairy farm families, nutritionists and cheesemakers, as well as five herds of exceptionally happy cows. Win-win-win.