Milk - In Season

Ralph Haslam Cows

Georgina Campbell

To many it’s just a commodity, a bland white liquid with no character and no season, to be used without thought all year with breakfast cereals and tea - and the growing prevalence of industrial farming methods is reinforcing that impression.

But all milks are not created equal.

A quick glance at any cheese counter is enough to illustrate the point. All are made from milk, so how could a bland universal commodity be the starting point for the huge range and variety of cheeses on display?

Far from being a mere commodity, this magical liquid is infinite in its variety and has a natural season - which, in Ireland, is just beginning with the strong spring growth of our wonderful grass.

Ralph Haslam

Long before potatoes arrived on the scene, or meats were a part of our daily meals, milk was the most important food in the early Irish diet and the basis for all of the curds and cheeses known as ‘white meats’.

Fast forward to today, and it’s obvious that our vibrant artisan cheese and speciality dairy sector has to be based on something special. This was something that focused the mind of food writer Catherine Cleary, when she was working with Kevin and Seamus Sheridan on their book ‘Counter Culture, The Sheridans Guide to Cheese’, stirring her to run the wonderful Appetite Talks at Dublin’s Smock Alley last autumn, an original and inspiring event that was all about cows’ milk.

On one extraordinary afternoon, Catherine brought together an impressive and diverse range of speakers - among them Robin Gill of The Dairy in Clapham, who spoke about his London restaurants and the appetite in London for high end dairy; dairy scientist Alan Kelly who explained the magic of milk; and Seamus Sheridan, who walked us through Fifteen Fields (you can read all about that in ‘Counter Culture’).

Juliana Adelman

Quirky contributions came from historian Juliana Adelman (right), who entertainingly traced modern Irish history through cows, and Mánchan Magan who sprinkled his favourite lost Irish milk words into the mix throughout the event and picked people from the audience to ‘guard’ them so they wouldn’t be gone for ever.

And it was the first public outing for the delicious whey-based gin Bertha's Revenge, from Ballyvolane House in East Cork, which we got to taste before a unique ‘Five Corners Feast’ that was cooked by five of Ireland’s most innovative chefs from all around the island.

A small farewell goodie bag given to guests that evening included a gift of liquid white gold: packed in an unassuming plastic bottle was a litre of the beautiful Mossfield Organic Milk (, produced in County Offaly by Ralph Haslam of Mossfield Organic Farm.

This gorgeous ‘single estate’ milk was among just four very special products recognised at the Irish Food Writers’ Guild Awards ( this year, chosen for its traditional full flavour and rich, creamy texture. produced on the family farm at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, where the milk of 80 cows grazing on limestone pasture is also transformed into buttermilk, yoghurt, and the excellent Mossfield Cheese, which received an IFWG award in 2007.

Mossfield Milk Products

So what makes a milk like Mossfield stand out from the rest?

Perhaps it is simply down to TLC. In Ireland we are blessed with the perfect conditions for dairy production, but the best producers go the extra mile. Not only did Ralph convert to organic methods in 1999 (after three decades of conventional farming) but, today, he follows an ‘organic-plus’ system, reseeding individual fields with up to two dozen types of grasses and herbs depending on the soil’s requirements. This encourages exceptional biodiversity, promotes the health of both soil and animals and produces a particularly rich-flavoured milk. Simply magic.

Mossfield Organic MilkImportantly, this is a ‘single estate’ milk, the produce of one herd and not mixed up with the milk from countless other farms. Also, unlike most commercially available milk, Mossfield Organic Milk is not standardised (skimmed) or homogenised to increase shelf life or to prevent the cream from separating. Instead, it is simply pasteurised and distributed nationwide in as fresh and natural a state as possible.

Taste this once and you will never see milk as a commodity again.


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