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Should cheese have horns?

Should cheese have horns?

Probably not. But the members of specialist cheesemaking operation Mühle-Hub in Egg have decided to make cheese from cows that still have their horns. They call it Hornkäse (horned cheese).

Hornkäse is a cheese made from the milk of cows that have horns. Sounds quite reasonable but in deciding to process “horned” milk separately, cheesemakers of Mühle-Hub in Egg not only discovered a new niche, but also fuel for plenty of discussion and controversy. Though the idea was first inspired by nutrition science, the on-going trend towards more natural, traditional as well as compassionate handling of animals, which has become popular in social media, has given the cheesemakers more lasting attention, as well as demand both domestically and internationally.

The autumn of 2014 was a good year for experiments. Back then cheesemaker Mühle-Hub produced cheeses from pure “horned” milk for the first time. The starting point was a discussion with Master Cheesemaker Johannes Metzler regarding evidence that people better tolerated dairy products from cows that still had horns. “We heard from people with lactose intolerance that milk from horned cows did not produce the same allergic reaction and they swore by it. Could we make such cheese for them they asked?” At the beginning, this posed a few logistical problems. But because the cheesemaker has two vats, the milk from cows with horns can be divided from that of the hornless animals to make separate dairy products. 6 of 10 farmers deliver “horned” milk and the trend is expanding.

“The passion for craftsmanship and for tradition drives us to succeed. This is the reason why we developed ‘Hornkäse.’ Of course it’s also a good marketing idea and it’s working for us.” Taube Alberschwende, spring 2015: Official cheese cutting at an information session featuring Munich University Professor Manfred Hoffmann, who researches the changes in milk protein amongst cows with and without horns. His argument? Even if it is not scientifically proven, you don’t have to be a “cow whisperer” to believe the claims that proponents of horn dairy are making. According to Hoffman, the horn – a natural weapon, method of communication, “antenna,” and body part receiving circulation – has a big influence on the digestion and metabolism of the cows. Horns also provide cows with social status and thus losing horns would affect the contents of the produced milk protein, which in turn could be a reason for lactose intolerance amongst certain people.

To date there has been plenty to argue about amongst proponents and opponents of horn removal. The Demeter Organic Farming Association and revolutionary Swiss farmer Armin Capaul started an effective media campaign on this very topic (“We’re mutilating these cows!), which garnered international attention. Thanks to a small cheesemaking operation, however, these discussions are now being had in the Bregenzerwald as well – though luckily in a more constructive form. “We are a small operation,” says Johannes Metzler, “who can afford to experiment in this way. For larger operations it is likely not profitable.” For hornless cheese producers, according to Metzler, sometimes one is laughed or even villainised, but on the other hand, sometimes one is also celebrated. “We would never talk poorly about other methods of cheese production. It’s not about putting down other products. No farmer removes horns from cows for fun because, after all, such removal naturally has advantages. It is clear that a herd of cows with horns is completely different from one without and we believe the milk is also different. This is our belief and producing cheese from these milk cows is our clear goal.”

These special cheesemakers are proud of their products and they enjoy watching how the discussion develops. “Our goal is to add to the market and provide an alternative for consumers. Luckily we are in a good situation and efficiency is not our primary concern. As a collective group of farmers, we don’t have to grow in scale and we don’t want to. Cheese maker Josef Waldner is able to handle the work he is tasked with and the members of the agricultural cooperative even enjoy visiting the animals and seeing him at work in summer.” In the future, they want to expand their offerings in order to meet the large demand. Currently, Hornkäse, Alpine cheese, is available at various level of maturity: aged 22, 12, or 10 months. You can even get your own ‘horn milk’ from the specialised cheesemaking operation from December to the mid May (bring your own container!).

Author: Markus Curin