Get Involved
Alternative Dairy Initiative
Alternative Dairy Initiative
Milk should have a clean, pleasing aftertaste.

Milk Flavor

The flavor of milk should be pleasantly sweet and full, and have a clean, pleasing aftertaste.

Much like butter, milk can absorb flavors during stages of production or in your fridge. This can often lead to diminished quality. It’s also possible the milk didn’t taste very good to begin with! The health of the milk animal and what she is fed has HUGE impacts on milk flavor.

Great tasting milk comes from happy, healthy cows, fed mainly on pasture, is processed in clean facilities, is minimally exposed to air and light, and is consumed when fresh.

Some of the off-flavors you may have experienced fall into three basic categories:

*Some flavors can result from multiple causes and may be listed more than once.

1. Absorbed: Feedy, Unclean, Foreign
2. Bacterial: Acid, Malty, Unclean, Fruity, Putrid, Lacks Excellence, Bitter, Foreign, Sour, Rancid
3. Chemical: Rancid, Oxidized, Light-Induced, Foreign


Conduct your own taste test!

Practice and experience will help you identify some of the more subtle nuances between samples that you might not notice initially. Use the Flavor Correction Guidance documents at the bottom of the page to help you identify different off-flavors.

  1. Have samples at 60 degrees F and make sure they are well mixed.
  2. Observe the aroma before tasting, the nose if far more sensitive than the mouth.
  3. Put about 10mL's of the sample in your mouth, hold all samples in your mouth for the same period of time.
  4. Observe mainly which tastes and odors emerge first.
  5. Recondition your mouth with some warm water, or a slice of apple or pear between samples.
  6. Practice introspection and don't be overly critical.


Tips for Milking for Quality:

To get a quality product, these five key factors must be optimal:

A weakened or stressed animal often produces milk with rancid flavors, a result of broken milkfat globule membranes. An animal suffering from ketosis will pass on a “cowy” flavor.

While the quality and composition of pastures varies widely, the cause of most “feed” flavors in milk is the result of either corn silage, legume hay, or brewer’s grains. The flavors are absorbed through the animal’s nose or mouth, into the bloodstream and then into the milk.

As noted above, flavors can be absorbed through an animal’s nose and mouth and ultimately into the milk. Dust, dirt, and manure must be removed regularly, keeping surroundings clean. All surfaces in contact with the milk should be properly cleaned to prevent buildup of milk solids.

As noted above, rancid flavors result from broken milkfat globules which can result from over-agitation in the bulk tank, freezing, flooding and/or air leaks in pipelines, and infrequent milk collection.

Light damage and bacterial contamination can result from improper milk storage. Minimizing exposure to damaging rays and maintaining temperatures below 38-40°F optimizes milk flavor post-production.


See these Flavor Correction Guidance documents from the Vermont Milk Flavor Program:



Sign Up For Our Newsletter!