If you don’t happen to remember the brief scene in Napoleon Dynamite (“this tastes like the cow got into an onion patch”), you might never have heard of competitive milk tasting. But it’s a real thing, and while we’re probably stretching a little by calling it a hot trend, Modern Farmer profiles one high school team that rose from the ashes four years ago and is now making it to national competitions. Are we seeing some kind of milk tasting resurgence?
At the Future Farmers of America convention, which runs Oct. 28-Nov. 2 in Louisville, Ky., high schoolers are competing for awards up to $1,000 by tasting cups of milk doctored with things like blood, garlic, salt, vinegar (for rancidness), and pennies (for an “oxidized” flavor). Milk testers can identify even small amounts of these off tastes:
For her students to taste at an elite level, Nonnewaug’s Petersson says they need to be able to identify miniscule traces of flavor. Eight kids tried out for her team last year, but only half made the cut. “For salty, I add 10 granules of salt. For garlic I add three or four granules of garlic. It’s very, very small amounts,” she says, recalling the time she had to ask one girl to leave the team because she just didn’t have the aptitude.
Hey, it’s no less cool than debate or band or model U.N. (All of which are really cool, right?) And if the teens develop a sophisticated palate for milk, their skills could be in demand in the dairy industry:
“Depending on the cows’ diet or how the milk is handled, this can actually produce off-flavors,” says Nennich, whose specialty is dairy cattle nutrition. For instance, onion or garlic off-flavors are caused when a cow chows down on a wild onion or garlic patch. “Obviously, the dairy industry doesn’t want that. We want consumers to be happy and be able to expect the same product every single time.”
Of course, you’re never able to straightforwardly enjoy a simple bowl of cereal again, but we all make sacrifices for greatness.
Does This Taste Funny To You? Teens Face Off in Competitive Dairy Tasting, Modern Farmer.
Get Grist in your inbox