From warming earth to the color of butter: why 40°F is so wonderous

Onion_Grass-by-Max-LeGranAs the snow melts, the soil warms.

As the soil warms, it becomes 40° Fahrenheit (and then warmer).

As the soil hits 40F, the bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen to plant soluble nitrogen wake up.

As those bacteria wake up, the soil is suddenly flush with new food for the plants.

As the plants eat, the plants start to green up again.  One of the earliest is grass (right there in the surface of the soil…).

As the plants green up, they become more nutritious and more tasty.

rotational-grazing-we-raise-grassAs the grazing animals (like cows) eat, they aim for the tastiest plants.

As the cows eat the spring grass, they get flush full of fresh nutrients.

As the cows get a healthier diet, they have more ability to produce fatty milk.

As milk gets fattier, it turns a golden hue.  (There’s some variance by breed.  Guernseys have the best reputation.)

The golder the milk, the golder the butter.


In the winter it works in reverse.  Of course, if the cow is not eating green grass, the color of the milk never changes.  Since folks fresh off the farm in the 19th and 20th centuries knew that the brighter butter is better, the industrial scale butter makers (and cheese makers) started adding annatto, a seed, to change the color of butter and cheese.  They got a little carried away and now we all think bright orange cheese is normal.  All because of marketing departments wanting to imitate the color of +40° Fahrenheit.

Related posts:

3 responses to “From warming earth to the color of butter: why 40°F is so wonderous

  1. Lois Phemister

    I remember one spring in the late 1940’5, as we ate breakfast, one after another of us children said, Hey, Mom the milk tastes weird. It’s okay, she replied, the cows just went back out on grass. We (or the cows) got used to the grass in a day or two. Also around that time our milkman, who brought 12 glass quarts of milk to our house every other day, told us we might want to get the guernsey milk. It is richer, more creamy, than the holstein cow milk we had been getting.

    • It’s true, they do! Guernsey milk is significantly higher in butterfat. In my own youth, I remember knowing when the ground had gotten warm enough for the wild onions to come up: the horses’ breath would reek of them!

  2. The only milk I would drink until about age 18 when I moved from my parents’ house was called “golden Guernsey.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>