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Off-Taste in Your Raw Milk? Fix it Here.

Ever take a big drink of milk and then – bleh!!*#@ it tastes like a cow? Or super bitter? Or like well-aged parmesan cheese (not in my milk, please!)??

One of the most common calls for help I get from raw milk producers is because their customers are complaining about off-tasting raw milk, they’re giving refunds right and left, and they can’t figure out the problem.

If you drink milk long enough I’m certain you will (like I definitely have) taste almost all these flavors at least once.  It happens.  That’s the beauty of live animals and unprocessed milk.

Lucky for you (and me), these unpleasant tastes are easily fixed, it just takes some stealth detective work and sometimes just a good scrubbing of your equipment.

Watch the video here, then scroll down to read about the off tastes and remedies:

Here are a few off-flavors and their remedies:

Acid:  Basic taste sensation. 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.

Barny/Cowy: Unpleasant odor and taste of a poorly maintained barn or unpleasant feed. May be perceived as “unclean.” “Cowy” or “cow’s-breath” 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: Basic taste sensation. 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 – (clean your equipment and dry your udders thoroughly)  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). (Better cleaning practices on cow and equipment.)

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 acid 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: basic taste sensation. No odor. Generally easily detected.

Cause – associated with late lactation or mastitic cows.  If you think mastitis is the culprit, test the milk and identify the type so you can treat it.

Luckily these off-flavors are within your control

Did you see the trend above?  Main causes of off-tasting milk are improper chilling procedures and dirty cows/equipment.  That’s great news because these things are so easy to fix!

Be encouraged – every producer at some point produces off-tasting milk.  What’s important is that you identify it immediately (through testing) and remedy it.

Thank you, as usual, for listening, reading, watching and sharing 🙂

Ready for more?

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Now it’s your turn! Have you had off-tastes in your milk?  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

xx
Charlotte

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Shawna Bar October 29, 2013, 4:34 pm

    Ah Charlotte, THANK YOU for this topic. This can be so frustrating!!!

    OK, here’s our situation. We milk 3 cows. Each cow’s milk is bottled separately, so each jar contains the milk from only one cow. We have no problem with sour or cow-y or salty…but ONE cow is bitter. Not always, but frequently. The bitterness is concentrated in the cream, and this cow makes a freakishly high quantity of cream. I just cannot figure it out. It is exactly as you say…no odor, just an aftertaste that can range from mild to very pronounced.

    What doesn’t figure for me is that this cow is handled exactly the same as the other two. Her milk is cooled exactly the same way, and the equipment is cleaned exactly the same way.

    She also has a vitamin E supplement, which supposedly helps with bitter milk….but not for her apparently.

    The only thing I havent’ done yet is do a screening for subclinical mastitis. There is a test that will screen for 16 strains, including both environmental and contagious….which I plan to do in about 2 weeks when I can do it concurrently with a preg-test.

    Oh…and this girl has never shown a symptom of mastitis. We run the CMT at least once per week, and we’ve never noticed any visible signs, heat, tenderness, changes in the milk consistency, or saltiness.

    So our solution for now has been to pull her out of our milk string until we figure it out. Help? Do we have a defective cow?
    Thanks.

    • Kristin October 29, 2013, 4:47 pm

      Shawna, could the cow be ketotic? Elevated cream line can be an indication of ketosis.

    • Charlotte Smith October 29, 2013, 4:50 pm

      Shawna, I hear you.

      I milk 3 cows at a time. Over the years I’ve owned about 14 total cows.

      I’ve had to get rid of 2 cows in that span due to just what you’re saying – bitter/off milk but there seemed to be no cause/solution, it was just the cow’s chemical/hormonal makeup was my final deduction.

      I sold them back into the conventional pasteurized milk string because they don’t care – when you pasteurize it then it all tastes the same, plus it’s mixed with 100’s of cow’s milk.

      Have you tested for staph A?

      If you exhaust all possible solutions and you still can’t sell her milk, unfortunately (we) raw milk micro dairies sometimes have no other solution but to get rid of them and ethically you can’t sell them to another raw milk producer (unless they have so many cows the taste is diluted).

      Another reason raw milk must be priced sustainably – expensive things like this will happen and I’ve learned the hard way my milk price must include a cushion for replacing cows.

      Thanks for bringing this up!!

      Oh, by the way – I’ve learned that when I’m buying a new cow I need to taste the milk – I’ll take a sample and put it in my fridge for a few days to see what flavors show up.

  • Shawna Bar October 29, 2013, 5:00 pm

    Ah well, it is good to know that we are not alone and not crazy. (Well, maybe a little crazy for doing this in the first place.) We have definitely gone through our share of cows here!

    @ Kristin, this cow doesn’t have ketosis. She did have sub clinical ketosis a few weeks after freshening, but is well past that at 5 months into her lactation.

    I wanted to add that another “off” flavor is that sweet, acetone smell. Like fingernail polish remover. I can smell it the moment I step into the barn. Its all the diagnosis I need to know that we are dealing with ketosis.

    Charlotte…tell me more about Staph A. The test I am about to run on this cow and one other tests for that, and many other mastitis culprits. I keep thinking…what if they come back positive? Do I really want to know? 🙂 Would you keep a cow that tested positive, but had not clinical symptoms? What are the implications for raw milk production?
    Thanks.

    • Charlotte Smith October 29, 2013, 5:08 pm

      Yes, Shawna, you absolutely want to know if your cow has Staph A – it’s highly contagious so your other girls will get it from your equipment. I screen for that specifically before I bring them home.

      It’s not a human pathogen but sub-clinical cases can produce off-tastes. Then if she gets mastitis, chances are you won’t be able to clear it with antibiotics (it’s typically antibiotic resistant)

      • Naomi Fournier November 3, 2013, 3:25 am

        I was given a cow with chronic subclinical mastitis, and when I sent a milk culture to the vet before drying her off (to know how what to dry treat her with), she tested positive for Steptococcus bovis and Staphylococcus sp. I milk her by hand, but keep her in the barn with my other girls. Is that okay?

        • Charlotte Smith November 4, 2013, 8:50 pm

          Hi Naomi – I’m so glad you wrote!

          I’m not a vet, but I do know what I’d do as an experienced dairy producer.

          The Streptococcus bovis can cause an imbalance in their rumen, which make your cow vulnerable to pathogenic bacteria, so even though she’s healthy now that could change and something bad could happen before you’re aware. She could also bloat due to the rumen bacteria imbalance.

          What you’re doing is ok, sure, but as a raw milk producer it’s so important we start with and maintain super healthy cows. I don’t think either of the above are contagious (ask a vet to be sure) but your milk quality will be affected and things could change quickly.

          I’d swap her out for a cow you test before bringing her home to make sure it’s really healthy, and then work to maintain the health.

          This gal’s immune system is already compromised, so you will struggle to get her to a point to overcome these issues and then maintain really good health.

          let me know how it goes!

          Charlotte

          • Naomi Fournier November 5, 2013, 12:05 am

            Thanks for taking the time to pass on your thoughts about my cow, Charlotte. I generally feed her milk to our calves, unless our family is a little short and wants to make an extra batch of ice cream. 🙂

            I do not want her to spread the bacteria to the other cows (I will send my vet an email and find out if that could be an issue), but I really don’t want to sell her as she has a lot going for her: a great pedigree, A2/A2 milk, high butterfat, classified EX 90-2E as a seven-year-old, and has won many ribbons at the fair – plus she was given to me by a really special friend of the family that is an old-style Jersey farmer.

            I didn’t know that Streptococcus bovis can cause a rumen inbalance, so that is good to know so that I can keep an eye on her. She is due to calve on December 26th (the calf will be A1/A2 since the bull I bred her with is A1/A1), but yesterday I discovered that the bull I would like to breed her with next is A2/A2. That bull has sexed semen available as well, so maybe I’ll try for a really nice replacement heifer from her next year.

            I’ve heard that feeding kelp decreases mastitis. Are you familiar with that at all?

  • Shawna Bar October 29, 2013, 5:32 pm

    Thanks Charlotte! This is a great post…as always extremely helpful 🙂

  • Linda October 30, 2013, 11:26 am

    Thanks for the post Charlotte. We are very small (only milking 6 cows) but we have experienced this as I’m sure most have. A few things we have found is to educate our herd share owners especially about keeping the milk
    chilled/refrigerated at low temps. We suggest using a cooler with ice packs for transporting milk, checking temp in Frig.(just above freezing), storing milk in coolest part of frig and not leaving it sit out on the kitchen counter while preparing food.

    Also, for Shawna, you can collect the milk now from your cow that is to be tested and freeze that milk. We just did that and we are awaiting results from the tested cow. We keep a few milk testing containers on hand in case we need to do this. Then we don’t have to make a special trip to pick them up from our vet. The testing take about 2 weeks so getting it to your vet sooner may be better for you. Although cleanliness is very important. make sure you are especially careful while collecting test milk. Since she may be contagious, milking your cow last is probably best til you get your results. Hope this inf will help.

    • Charlotte Smith October 30, 2013, 3:56 pm

      Linda, I didn’t know you could freeze your test sample. That’s great! I have to ship mine on Mondays only, so it doesn’t work too well if I need to take a sample from a suspect cow on a thursday. Thanks for sharing!

    • IdahoLaura May 31, 2014, 11:29 pm

      http://www.udderhealth.com/index.htm My milk is taken to the lab in Jerome, ID. I really like the people as they take the time to explain things to me. However, they say to refrigerate only, don’t let it freeze, and get it to them as quickly as possible. I’m usually testing to see why SCC counts are higher than what I like on my goats.

  • Shawna Bar October 31, 2013, 3:49 am

    Linda, good point about educating herdshare members about keeping the temp cool! My dear 80 year old neighbor constantly complained about her milk going sour quickly…then one I day I walked over to her house to deliver her milk, and discovered that her fridge was not cold! I brought her over a thermometer, and it was about 45 degrees. Ah ha.

    I have found that milk for mastitis and pregnancy tests can be frozen, but not for coliform, SPC, or somatic cells. Those samples have to be fresh and cold. Have you found different? If so, I would LOVE to know! That would open some options.

  • Leah November 10, 2013, 11:22 pm

    We had one of the dairy goats break into the herb garden and devour the entire crop of basil. We knew who the culprit was because Annie’s milk had a strong basil odor and tasted like it too… nasty!

  • Kris November 15, 2013, 12:16 am

    We have only one of our three cows in milk – Jersey 4 year old. Her milk is fine the first day or two in the frig but anything longer than that it has an awful after taste. We have eliminated the cleaner we use, wasn’t that. We changed all the rubber on the equipment (hoses, inflation, air tubes), wasn’t that. We changed out all our containers in the house – wasn’t that. I have even hand milked her into a mason jar. Its fine for a few days. Its very frustrating! She is only 3 months post second calf and we have never had this before with her. There has been no change in her diet either – she eats a combo of Corn distillers and soybean hauls while she is milked and eats corn stalks, alfalfa or grass bales – free choice. She is not feeding her calf as one of our older cows “stole” the baby.
    Any additional suggestions?

    • Charlotte Smith November 19, 2013, 2:12 am

      Have you had her milk tested by a lab? That would be my first step. Depending on where you are, we ship ours to Udder Health Systems in Bellingham WA, but there are labs all over.

      Let me know what you find out –

      Charlotte

  • Michelle November 23, 2013, 7:59 am

    I am so glad to have found your site! We have one dairy cow that we do shares with- we supply 19 families with that girl. She is 3/4 Jersey and 1/4 Holstein. She gives delicious milk and we have had lots of compliments. I have noticed that when her milk sours, it has a bitter after taste. But the milk is sweet and delicious when it is fresh and for about two weeks (not sure when exactly it sours but about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks or so. ) it is only bitter when it sours. And it doesn’t taste very good sour unfortunately because of the bitterness. I have had only one complaint of the bitterness from a herdshare owner, the rest haven’t kept the milk around long enough or had any issues. I would like to make clabbered milk and such but want this bitterness gone. This is a new flavor to raw milk I have never had to deal with before. I bought Vitamin E that I gave with her grain tonight. I just bought the human supplement and gave her 2000 iu to get it started and then will back down to about 1200iu or so starting tomorrow. I hope it will make a difference. What puzzles me is why it is sweet for the normal time and then bitter only when it sours? I plan to leave some milk out probably Sunday and see how the souring goes having taken the Vit E.
    One note on Vitamin E- it made sense to me because in foods and cosmetics Vit E is a natural preservative. I think it gets carried through into the milk and therefore helps keep it fresh longer? I hope it works. Any other suggestions?
    My jars and milk buckets are washed with hot soapy water, rinsed, then sprayed with a vinegar water solution to sanitize, rinsed well again, then used.
    Thanks so much.

    • Charlotte Smith November 24, 2013, 3:40 pm

      Hi Michelle!! Welcome!! I highly recommend you jump over on our rawmilkpro.com site and enter your name/email in the box provided. You will receive monthly updates (free) as I break down my milking process online. Plus, you will be in a community of other raw milk producers, just like you, all over the US sharing ideas. Would love to see you there!!

      You mentioned all the external things you have done to try to track down the bitter taste. You didn’t mention testing your milk – this will reveal LOTS of things and I highly recommend it if you haven’t. We send milk to a certified lab each month for a coliform count and standard plate count. This tells you what’s going on in your cow’s udder as well as specific types of bacteria you may need to combat.

      When you’re chasing down a mystery in the barn it’s often the only way to narrow down the problem and nail a solution.

      Good luck!! Thanks for sharing and hope to see you again 🙂

      xx
      Charlotte

  • Cissy Davis March 31, 2015, 8:13 pm

    Just curious? We have friends with a fairly new Jersey cow and they send milk home with us, but it just lacks any flavor. I can buy milk from a somewhat local farm that has a much nicer creamier better flavor to it. What can we suggest they feed their cow to get the milk to have a little more milk flavor to it? There is some cream in the jar of milk they give us and we shake it up and drink with the milk, but it really doesn’t help.

  • Amy August 1, 2015, 2:15 am

    How about milk that tastes like ashes? It’s like a smokey aftertaste. Some days it will taste better but somedays it tastes like I licked an ashtray! Any thoughts?

    • Charlotte Smith August 3, 2015, 5:13 pm

      What do your test results look like? specifically, the standard plate count and coliform count? That will tell you where to look. If you let me know I can suggest what to focus on.

      thanks! Good luck!

  • Dawn August 4, 2015, 2:27 pm

    Is there anything you can do once you have the milk that has the bitter taste to it? (Make cheese, yogurt etc? If not, is it safe to “water” the garden with? I have 4 gallons here that we purchased that all have that bitter taste. I’m leary about telling the farm we got them from, I don’t want to offend them…. but I can’t keep getting “tainted” milk!)

    • Charlotte Smith August 4, 2015, 4:15 pm

      Unfortunately anything you make with it will just intensify the flavor that’s already there — so bitter milk means even more bitter cheese and yogurt. I’d feed it to your pigs, chickens, or like you said put it on the garden.

      Also, I encourage you to share this with your farmer you bought it from. You can even do that by sending them this question and response. You are doing them – and all raw milk farmers – a grave disservice by not mentioning off-tasting milk.

      I know people don’t want to offend so I try to make sure my customers know I want feedback always – good or bad — because if they don’t like my milk so they just disappear rather then tell me the problem then I will go out of business, and your farmer, too!!

      Plus, they give raw milk a really bad name – customers will leave and never try it again because it tasted bad.

      And – – your farmer needs to know so they can fix this problem, which is totally fixable once they know how. Send them this site so they can start reading, getting test results and improving their product so they stay in business. I can’t tell you how important this is – if you don’t inform them they won’t last and they will lose lots of money in the process.

      It may be hard, but you can also do it anonymously, and they may not take it well or they might be really grateful. Plus, they should refund your money. You should never pay for raw milk that is bitter.

      Hope this helps, I encourage you to share, and good luck!! Thanks so much for writing and caring!!

      Charlotte

  • ESWAR PILLAI December 30, 2015, 5:43 pm

    One of my high yielding cow’s milk is so salty, and it was treated for sub-clinical mastitis with Inj. Sterptomycin for five days , inj Enrocin for 4 days and inj. Ceftifur for threee days and again treated for ketosis with Inj. dextrose 50% I.v for two days . Orally given Tri sodium citrate for seven days. also goive ruminal buffers but no improvement in milk’s taste. canyou advised me further which will help me . THANK YOU.

    • Charlotte Smith December 30, 2015, 7:53 pm

      Thanks so much for writing!! Is there a chance it might be staphylococcus aureus — have you tested for that?

      Unfortunately it’s antibiotic resistant so you’ll end up culling the cow. It’s also contagious so you’ll want to find out or rule it out for sure.

      Good luck! Let me know what you find out!

  • Phyllis November 5, 2016, 5:23 pm

    It seems each year this time (this is the third year), we have a bitter after taste in the milk. All three girls, same thing. Could it at all be correlated with dry pastures/ full hay forage? They always get the same feeds at milking time so that is unchanged. If you drink it the first day, it is OK, but thrn gets worse. I used to hand milk, and have used a bucket milker for the last year.

    • Charlotte November 5, 2016, 5:32 pm

      Start with testing each cow’s milk individually to make sure there’s nothing up with them. Then yes, if they are all clear make sure you’ve got top-quality hay and grain. And test your milk at the end of the process – after it’s gone through all your equipment and see how those bacteria counts are to determine if it’s a sanitation issue.

      The difficulty of bitter is you can’t mask it. If you make yogurt or cheese it just gets worse and honey or sweetening it makes it sweet and bitter which is also nasty!!

      Start looking at each individual part of your process to narrow it down. Good luck!!

      Charlotte

  • Rebecca Mayhew January 1, 2017, 8:25 pm

    Hello from the UK!

    Am loving this website – lots of useful links and tips, thank you.

    Just a quick question. We are new to dairy production and have come across a strange problem. We have 3 jerseys – one in calf, dry, and due late Feb, one just been dried up but we milked her successfully for two months with no problems, and a third, due in May who we’ve been milking for 2 weeks.

    The last cow, Gaia, has been milking fine but over the last 3-4 days the milk has gone sour (today’s within 8 hours) and there is no discernible cream line in the bottle. I haven’t changed anything from my normal routine and never had this problem with my other cow. The milk tastes fabulous straight from the udder and I am happy that there is no mastitis.

    We scrubbed the milking machine to within an inch of its life today and put an extra rinse of dairy sanitiser through. I’m hoping that this will somehow make a difference tomorrow.

    Has anyone else had this problem though and if so do you have any advice? I’ll send milk away from testing once the bank holiday is over (Tuesday) but as it is fine when straight from the cow I’m unsure as to whether it is her, or us!

    All thoughts much appreciate.

    Rebecca

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