All mammals are capable of producing milk, so why have Americans focused almost entirely on cows for their dairy intake? A lot of animals are udder-free, making them pretty difficult to milk. Other animals just produce milk that’s either too pungent or fatty to drink straight. Still, that doesn’t mean cows are the only option: From yak butter to camel milk, there are plenty of alternatives enjoyed by people all over the world. Here are 10 non-cow dairy products to try when you want a break from dairy cows.
1. YAK BUTTER
The next time you enjoy a cup of tea, consider adding a little yak butter. In Tibet—a place with no shortage of yaks—yak butter tea or po cha is wildly popular; some Tibetans are known to enjoy up to 60 cups a day. The yellowish drink has a soup-like consistency and a creamy taste. Yaks and cows have different diets, so the yak's butter tastes different: It has an oily and fatty texture with a barn-like odor. If you can overcome the unusual taste and smell, there are apparently some health benefits that you can’t get from regular butter thanks to higher levels of amino acids, calcium, and vitamin A.
2. WATER BUFFALO GELATO
You’ve probably had buffalo milk before in the form of cheese (buffalo mozzarella, unlike buffalo wings, is named after the animal it comes from). Although fattier than the cow alternative, water buffalo milk has less cholesterol, 9 percent more calcium, and 37 percent more iron. One Californian buffalo dairy farm called Double 8 Dairy has been making its own gelato from the milk since 2013. They supply it to a number of restaurants in cities like Oakland and San Francisco; the frozen treat has an extremely rich and creamy texture.
Unfortunately, water buffalos are a little tricky to farm in the United States. Italian buffalo have been bred for milking, but American buffalo are much more finicky. "The U.S. population is in borderline feral condition," Kent Underwood, a former water buffalo dairy worker, told The Wall Street Journal. They also only produce 15 pounds of milk a day, compared to a dairy cow’s 50 pounds.
3. REINDEER CHEESE
Reindeer milk is some of the most nutritious you can get, with 22.5 percent butterfat and 10.3 percent protein (cow’s milk has a measly 3 percent protein). This extra fatty milk makes some seriously tasty cheese, like the Finnish cheeses Juustoleipa and Leipäjuusto. At one point, the cheeses were only made with reindeer milk, but are now sometimes made with cow milk. You can’t really blame cheese masters—reindeer milk is hard to come by. It takes two people to milk a reindeer: One person needs to hold the animal’s horns while the other person milks it.
4. CAMEL MILK
A longtime staple in the Middle East, camel milk is now making its way stateside as a trendy (albeit expensive) alternative to cow milk. According to Desert Farms, which sells bottles of the milk for $18 a pint, camel milk is “richer, more filling, more easily digested, and more satisfying than cow, goat or dairy milk.”
5. KUMIS (ALCOHOLIC HORSE MILK)
Did you know you could get drunk off fermented horse milk? People in Central Asia certainly do. With an alcoholic content of about 2.5 percent, it isn’t the most efficient way to get a buzz, but warriors like Attila the Hun and Gengis Khan would often indulge.
6. HUMAN CHEESE
Some adventurous chefs have been making cheese out of breast milk: In 2011, Miriam Simun created ricotta made from breast milk; a year earlier, Manhattan chef Daniel Angerer served small dollops of cheese made from his wife’s breast milk at his restaurant, Klee Brasserie. (He also posted a recipe for the cheese on his website.) Apparently, it tasted mild but had an unappetizing bouncy texture. The New York Health Department shut the whole operation down and prohibited the chef from keeping the contraband cheese on site at the restaurant.
Cheese isn't all that can be made with breast milk: A London restaurant called Icecreamists once served breast milk ice cream in martini glasses.
7. SHEEP YOGURT
If you're bored of the usual yogurts at the grocery store, consider switching animals. Sheep yogurt is sweeter than yogurt made from goat’s milk and richer than cow’s milk. Companies like Bellwether Farms and Black Sheep sell the tasty alternative in gourmet stores and online.
8. MOOSE CHEESE
You can find moose cheese in Russia and Sweden, but it all comes from one place: The Swedish farm Elk House, which has three lactating moose (Gullan, Haelga, and Juno) that they use to make various dairy products. The animals only lactate from May to September, so the milk is in high demand. Elk House also has a restaurant and gift shop; visitors can even meet the animals.
9. GOAT ICE CREAM
There are a number of places you can go to try rich and creamy goat ice cream, including New York’s Victory Garden, an ice cream shop that specializes in fun flavors like salted caramel and honey lavender. If you’re looking for a pint, Texas-based company LaLoo’s also makes a goat's milk ice cream in salted caramel, as well as flavors like black mission fig and mystic strawberry.
10. DONKEY CHEESE
You might not know it from looking at one, but donkeys make some expensive cheese: Pule Cheese is a delicacy, made on a Serbian farm, that costs about $1000 a pound. A single herd of Balkan donkeys are milked by hand three times a day, yielding just a small amount of milk. The precious liquid is then converted into a strong, salty, crumbly white cheese. Balkan donkeys are an endangered breed, making it very difficult to get your hands on this tasty treat.
BONUS: PIG RICOTTA
OK, so you can’t try this kind of cheese just yet, but there’s a chance you might in the future. Chef Edward Lee has been experimenting with a pig milk ricotta. Unfortunately, pigs don’t lactate much and sows are very aggressive when pregnant. According to Slate, to obtain the milk, “Lee crept up on the sows while they were sleeping, frantically pinched at their tiny nipples, then ran away when they woke up and started to freak out.” The chef concluded that a more effective means of extracting milk from pigs is actually a human breast pump. Apparently, the very small amount of ricotta Lee has made so far was very good, so we'll have to wait and see if it pans out.