Dairy Breeds

What do you picture when you think of a cow? If you live in the United States, it’s likely you picture a rather large white and black-blotched Holstein. And rightly so, for this breed makes up about 90% of the dairy herd in the United States, and has been the dominant breed used in the dairy industry here for almost 70 years.

Holsteins are not only large in number; they also produce a lot of milk. (Some individuals produce up to 28,000 pounds annually!) Holstein milk also yields high volumes of milk fat and milk protein, which is an important fact for dairy farmers as they are paid per pound for these components. However, Holstein milk, compared to other dairy breeds, does not necessarily yield a large amount of cheese from this amount of milk, nor does it yield high-quality cheese.

Allgau cows

In contrast, Brown Swiss cows, which make up less than one percent of the dairy herds in the United States, produce a smaller volume of milk than Holsteins, but yield more cheese out of that volume, and better quality cheese, too.

One reason for this is that Brown Swiss generally have low somatic cell counts (SCC), indicators of infection (high counts are signs of infection). Thus Brown Swiss tend to carry less infection and therefore are able to produce more and higher quality milk.

Another reason is that the composition of the milk is quite different from that of Holsteins. Although Brown Swiss are second to Holsteins in the volume of milk protein produced, Brown Swiss milk actually has higher concentration of casein protein. Casein protein coagulates during the cheese making process, and a higher concentration means better coagulation and firmer curd. This results in higher yields of cheese per volume of milk, and also creates excellent cheese texture.

Though Brown Swiss cows are not common dairy cows in the United States, this breed is the traditional dairy cow in the Allgäu. There, herds dine on plentiful swaths of luscious alpine grasses and produce the high-quality milk that goes into Käserei Champignon cheese.