Vista Alegre farm and farmhouse dairy

by admin on 04/06/2016

Turning the cheeses upside down to expel whey

Web site

Map reference

Photo gallery

Having arrived early in the morning, Cesar and Helen, the farm and dairy owners, wished us welcome to Vista Alegre farm, and they invited us to go to the barn where their Friesian cows were being milked by machines. As usual, cows are timid when strangers are present such that we had to stay some distance from the entrance to the machines, else they wouldn’t enter.

After all the cows had been milked, they were let out in the barn where they were fed cereals from a trough, then they got freshly cut grass, both of which seemed to be well received.

While the cows were eating, we went to the farmhouse dairy located nearby. In fact, before 2011 milk this farm was sold to large dairies. However, since the price of milk was continually decreasing and farmers in the Basque country were expected to intensify production, this family turned from conventional to organic farming and started selling pasteurised milk, yoghurt and cheese directly to consumers and in small shops in this area. This farm was certified organic from 2013.

Before we could enter the dairy, we first had to wear a white jacket, a hat and rubber boots. Inside, the whole family apart from the Englishwoman Helen, was making yogurt. The milk from the cows was stored in a container, from which it was pumped to the farmhouse dairy. There, it was filtered, then heated to 90ºC and quickly lowered to 43ºC in order to get rid of unwanted bacteria. Since all processing was done by machines, their only task was to fill small glasses with yogurt and put on lids and labels.

While Cesar and two helpers were making yogurt, Helen, who’s originally from the UK, was packaging cheese manually in an adjacent room. After having packaged the cheese, she put on a label, which was in accordance with EU requirements, both regarding what information should be included, but also the size of the font.

Helen told us that they often receive visitors, in particular children from local schools. She even taught them English at the same time as she was teaching them how to package cheeses. She has also made a web page for visits from schools.

When the yogurt was completed and the cows had finished eating the freshly cut grass, Cesar let them go outside on a pasture next to the farm.

The web site of the Vista Alegre farm has a huge amount of interesting information and the following is an extract of a small part of it.

The steps taken to achieve greater sustainability

From the early 1990s, following a certain degree of intensification, the Vista Alegre farm decided not to carry on with the intensification-industrialisation that could be observed on other dairy farms (fodder based mainly on imported compound feedstuffs, high milk yield per cow, bought in embryos, permanent stabling of livestock, slurry dumping…) and, in fact, began a process of de-intensification. Basically, the amount of compound feed given the cows was reduced, cows were put out to graze whenever the weather was suitable (March/April to November, at least) and the stocking rate was lowered. Lower milk yields are achieved, but, on the other hand, the quality of milk has been purposefully improved.

These changes have had immediate positive repercussions for animal welfare (less health problems in the dairy herd and, as a result, less use of veterinary products), for the environment (less slurry, lower energy costs due to fewer imports of fodder, greater biodiversity in fields…) and for the nutritional quality and health standard of milk (higher protein and unsaturated fat content…).

The milk is not homogenised, it’s fat content thus being visible and the possible health risks associated with homogenisation and still open to debate in scientific circles are avoided. As cows graze in open fields the nutritional quality of milk has improved, for example concerning the presence and appropriate relationship between elements such as Omega 3 and Omega 6, calcium and phosphorus.

Our aim is to sell as many of our products as possible straight to consumers, reducing the number of intermediaries. We also wish to provide consumers with as much information as possible about our farm and our products, emphasising the agro-ecological character of the farm project and the contribution it can make to food sovereignty. We therefore give priority to work with producer-consumer groups in the Nekasare network, but also sell our produce in small shops and restaurants, once again establishing clear priorities, in this case, selling as close as possible to Karrantza, our ideal being to sell in the area between Karrantza and Bilbao ( Encartaciones, Zona Minera, Margen Izquierda and Bilbao).

Milk from the Vista Alegre farm

Three of the issues that heavily influence the nutrient composition and health quality of milk from the Vista Alegre dairy herd are:

the type of fodder given to cows and the way it is supplied

the importance given to cleanliness and hygiene on the farm and in milking

the way milk is processed in the farm dairy

As far as the type of fodder given to the dairy herd is concerned, two parameters have a positive impact on milk quality: firstly, the high percentage of forage in fodder and the low percentage of concentrates; and, secondly, the fact that cows graze at least seven months a year, weather permitting. Our cows are not permanently stabled and are thus able to move around more freely, a fact that has positive implications for the dairy herd’s health

As far as hygiene is concerned, in both livestock management and milking, particular attention is paid to cleanliness in fields, cow barns and the milking parlour on the farm.

With regards to the type of processing applied to milk, this is pasteurised at 63-65ºC for 30 minutes. Milk is not homogenised to avoid applying greater pressure which can alter milk and to uphold the precautionary principle, given the scientific data concerning the possible adverse impacts of homogenisation for consumer health (see the document “Getting to know milk”). Fresh and soft cheese is made from pasteurised milk, whilst yoghurt is the result of a different process during which milk is heated to 90ºC. Our fine cheeses and mature cheeses are made with raw milk, something we are able to do given that our milk has “A” category status from a health and hygiene point of view. Milk from the Vista Alegre farm is not enriched in any way and the presence of each nutrient, such as calcium or non saturated fatty acids (the omegas) is a result of the way in which the cows are fed and our dairy products made.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Previous post:

Next post: