Let the specialists define what hay milk is. In this case, the Association Lait de foin, officially recognized in May 2018 by the INAO as the Organisme de Défense et de Gestion (ODG) for this product. According to the association, "hay milk is the original form of milk production. Animals are traditionally fed on grass in summer and hay in winter, respecting the rhythm of the seasons. Protected by an official sign of quality, hay milk guarantees milk production without fermented feed or GMOs, as close to nature as possible."
It is estimated that hay milk production represents 3% of total milk production in the European Union. While raising dairy cows solely on grass and hay is an age-old tradition, until recently there was no official designation for it in France, unlike in German-speaking countries where "Heumilch" has long been known. In Germany, the association of hay milk producers has ten members, all located in Bavaria. In Switzerland, 19 producers belong to the "Heumilch Schweiz" association, while in Austria, the most important association for hay milk, there are 7,000 hay milk producers and 60 companies.
In fact, Austria is number 1 for hay milk production in Europe. Production represents 480 million liters of milk (15% of total production) and 600 different dairy products. This quality milk enjoys an excellent reputation among Austrian consumers, with 82% recognition.
It was in 2013 and 2015, after meeting the Austrian forerunners of the hay milk approach during a study trip to Austria, that French hay milk producers took the initiative of creating an interprofessional committee to enforce the Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie Lait de foin (STG).
France gets down to it
The association's aim is to make hay milk better known to consumers, and to present all its virtues in a simple, transparent and honest way.
The producers' specifications are based on 3 basic principles for STG: at least 75% grass or hay, no fermented foods, no GMOs. Hay milk has thus become the first dairy Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) to appear in France. It's an approach in tune with the times, with consumers demanding an authentic, natural and sustainable food product. The STG hay milk guarantees : Animal welfare.
Cows are herbivores: feeding them mainly grass and hay means respecting their physiology and health. Quality and taste. Unlike grass and hay, fermented feeds - such as silage - can give milk an unpleasant taste, and have an impact on its suitability for processing into yoghurt or cheese. Environmental protection. Growing grass means maintaining the landscape, preserving water resources and enhancing biodiversity...
A first presence at the Salon du Fromage et des Produits Laitiers
The control plan that ensures the specifications of the hay milk association was validated by the INAO at the end of 2018. Producers who are members of the association can use the designation if their practices correspond exactly to the TSG specifications. 115 milk producers are currently certified or in the process of being certified, 27 are producer-processors, including 7 with PDO status. According to the association, some 27 million liters of milk have so far been certified as hay milk TSG. By 2021, two other TSGs have been recognized: ewe's hay milk and goat's hay milk.
The strengthening of the Comité des producteurs de lait de foin will find its expression during the Salon du Fromage et des Produits Laitiers in February 2024. The Comité Interprofessionnel du lait de foin will be present at the event for the very first time. As will some of its members with their own stand. This will be the case, for example, of Fromagerie de la Durance. Hay-milk cheeses are set to take center stage at the show. A sign of their growing popularity...