Cooking,  Local Products

Dark Days Challenge Week 5 & All That Dairy

We’re 5 weeks into the Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge and I’m starting to see some trends in the way I eat. First, I am hopelessly, desperately, overly, and unabashedly devoted to local dairy. Veggies, beef, nah. For the most part, I could live with out them during the Dark Days. But ask me to give up cheese, sour cream, and my morning glass of milk and I might not make it.

This is tough for someone who’s trying to figure out the meaning of SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients in my meal. Dairy isn’t exactly kind to the environment. My darling dairy products come from cows.  Cows are carbon-machines: input massive amounts of fossil-fuel-intensive feed and output methane gas and a side of milk. Add in fertilizers, growth hormones, and all the other corporate industrial agriculture practices that make me cringe. But I grew up in the middle of cheese-land Wisconsin.  My in-laws still operate a small family dairy farm there, whose milk is transported to a local cheese factory and into my favorite food on the planet.

What’s a gal to do when stuck between good food and good choices?

5 weeks of Dark Days Food and a few years of local eating will tell you it’s all about finding a compromise.  There are good choices when it comes eating dairy. Choices that support local producers (who demonstrate more concern for their animals and farmland than large corporate mega-dairy farms) and sustainable practices. Here’s where to start:

  • Reduce dairy product consumption. My cholesterol and skinny jeans would appreciate a few less meals topped with cheese each week. Don’t want to reduce the number? Double check the portion size in your recipes to start.  Many of the hearty Midwestern dishes we all love could be slightly adjusted to reduce the amount of dairy per serving without drastically changing the taste.
  • Choose SOLE producers. It may take a bit of research to sift out which dairy producers follow SOLE practices, but in the end it will be well worth it. Look for animals who are pastured, milk that is hormone free, and farms who choose sustainable land practices.
  • DIY when you can. Yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, and even cheeses like mozzarella are easy to make at home with some time and basic equipment. The kitchen partner and I have made our own yogurt and cheese for over a year and have had only one failed effort. When you pay for dairy products at the store, most times you’re paying for convenience of prepared food–not special technology. If you’ve identified a SOLE milk producer, you’ve done the hardest part!

In honor of my Dark Days Week 5 dairy obsession, I made a new warm appetizer spread perfect for holiday parties. It has 3 kinds of dairy products, frozen broccoli and corn from our garden, and served with corn tortilla chips from Whole Grain Milling. It’s rich and creamy with a few veggies to make you feel better about eating the whole plateful.

Warm Broccoli-Corn Cheese Spread

Adapted from Patricia Moore’s recipe in the Taste of Home Cookbook


8 oz. softened cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried oregano
3 C. frozen broccoli, thawed and drained
1 C. frozen corn, thawed and drained
1 C. shredded cheddar cheese, divided
Corn Tortilla Chips

1. Preheat oven to 350° and spray a shallow 2 quart baking dish with non-stick spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, and spices. Beat well until no chunks remain. Gently fold in vegetables and 1/2 C. of the shredded cheese. Pour into baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve warm.


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