Dairy makes everything better. Does that sound like a commercial sound bite? Well, truth is many varieties of dairy products that we take for granted each day not only add value to our diets but also elevate flavors, add complex dimensions, even provide the base or complete certain dishes, such as today’s savory bread pudding of Swiss Chard and Artichoke. How could we have a bread pudding without milk or cream, cheese, a bit of butter?
Realizing National Dairy Month falls in June, I couldn’t help but be sure and recognize it. Having always been a fan of dairy, well, how many kids growing up as baby boomers with the not uncommon minimum of five kids each family didn’t go through at least a gallon milk a day? Milk was part of the meal, part of the snack, and the best filling alternative if ones favorite meal wasn’t served up at the family table any given evening.
Halfway through college I developed a more educated enthusiasm for dairy and it was a bit of default I ended up being an agriculture major, happening upon the recommendation of a former student government advisor who knowing how much I loved food thought it was also a great route to later go into the Peace Corps which had been my plan. Following the agriculture studies route ended up to be something I really loved, so much so, I wished I might have begun it even earlier then combining it with journalism, but my college transitions were rather tumultuously dictated by my father striking ill just prior to my university years so lots of things rocked my world in terms of choices and direction and I made the best I could during that time.
I couldn’t help but reflect on this past recently, when I saw the American Dairy Association Mideast was one of the sponsors at the BlogHer 2014 Food Conference in May. Now with no internet at the time, I’m not even sure how it actually happened when moving to Philadelphia out of college I even connected with the Dairy Association. But I do remember being part of a team in a main city square giving away dairy products, including ice cream cups, and promotional brochures, same as today’s National Dairy Month, we were celebrating the dairy community, honoring the nation’s dairy farmers acknowledging the daily nutritiously produced milk, and dairy foods.
Next thing I knew (and I’ve no idea how I successfully arrived at these farms without a GPS!) I had the opportunity to visit some dairy farms, interviewing dairy farmers on current industry topics then writing them for a tri state dairy magazine of the time.
One such cover story I wrote was about improving the dairy herd through computer selection. I can’t help but chuckle on this particular article referring to the uncommon combination of “down home” style with the “future age- computer technology.” But in fact, this was indeed what one of the Pennsylvania Dairy Farmers was introducing into his farm early in 1981. In one way this relates to today, for in fact, our dairy farmers are not just waking up to the crow of the rooster and milking cows, the mere idea of addressing the benefits of ranking sires to a computerized selection early on in the evolution of technology- if nothing else shows how there is so much more involved among dairy farmers in the production of these important products for our daily use, even including improving quality, performance indexes, butterfat, repeatability, and consequently a dairy farms income differential.
Shortly after writing a half dozen or so of these magazine features I then began working at the largest regional newspaper in Philadelphia at the time. After paying my dues, I then moved into making additional contributions toward developing a small food section. I thought it would be good to include some farm and food pieces. Now this is how times have changed, I had to do some serious negotiating with the paper to interview farmers for articles, and it was hard negotiation, really, really hard.
Fortunately today, through so many various facets of increased awareness and interest in food that have gradually swept the country, sharing the well-deserved acknowledgement of farms and farmers along with learning and appreciating more about the foods we consume has become much more common. But just like in a family where we celebrate each individual upon their birthday, in this month of June what a better way than to singly honor our dairy farmers whose daily toils and expertise produce those very foods that provide nutrition, elevate flavors, and complete many of both our daily and specialty dishes products during National Dairy month?
So whether you are enjoying milk or cream in your morning coffee, or similar to my home welcoming my grandson at the table each morning at breakfast and again at evening dinner, always with a glass of milk, this month in particular, is a perfect time to give a thought to dairy farmers, for we all know, ‘Milk Does a Body Good.’
And then, from sandwiches, to casseroles, taco and chili toppings, lasagne, soups, cakes and sweets, and bread puddings too, the wholesome product, milk, produces countless wonderful dairy foods we enjoy each day, nutritional cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, creamy butter, you just know don’t ya, ‘Milk’s Got More!’
“Got Milk” ?!!! Yes, we do. Thanks US Dairy Farmers, Happy National Dairy Month!
- 1 " thick slices stale baguette from one whole baguette, approximately
- 2 1/4 cups milk
- 5 eggs, beaten
- 2 1/2 cups grated cheese, a mixture of any type on hand, such as cheddar, Swiss, Jack, smoked
- 1 large bunch of Swiss chard, stems separated from the leaves, stems chopped into half inch pieces, leaves chopped into bite sized pieces
- 1 onion, sliced into half moons
- 6 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 14 ounce can artichoke hearts, cut in half
- 1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 6-8 stems fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems and chopped
- kosher salt, one to two pinches on sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onion, cooked Swiss Chard ribs and leaves, halved artichokes, and milk and egg mixture, or more to desired taste
- fresh cracked pepper, a pinch on each vegetable after cooking, and in the milk and egg mixture
- 2 tablespoons butter for sauteing mushrooms, 1-2 tablespoons for sauteing onion, then enough to butter casserole dish before preparation, and small bits spread across the top of pudding before baking
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- In a medium size pan boil water and cook the Swiss chard stems for five minutes, drain, rinse with cold water, set aside. In a large, warmed saute pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil, Cook Swiss chard until wilted, drain, cool, squeeze out all liquid, season with salt and pepper. Saute mushrooms in butter, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, pepper, when cool, stir in the parsley and thyme. Saute onion in butter until translucent and lightly browned, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle halved artichokes with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, convection, if available.Line the stale baguette slices in a long dish, pour milk over the bread and let soak for five minutes, turn over for another few minutes before pressing lightly down on the bread to remove excess liquid, transfer bread to another platter before pouring the milk back into a measuring cup. Pour extra milk into measuring cup to yield 2 1/4 cups. Since this is a savory bread pudding, the short soaking time should soften the bread, but not make it too mushy as a sweet bread pudding. Pour milk into beaten egg yolks, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Set aside a small amount of vegetables to decorate the top of the Bread Pudding. This dish has three layers including the top.
- Line the bottom of a well buttered casserole dish with a layer of soaked bread slices, arrange a half of each vegetable topping with one third of the shredded cheese then another layer of bread slices repeating with the second layer. Arrange the final layer of soaked bread topped with a decorative arrangement of vegetables, scattering the final third of shredded cheese. Ladle the milk and egg mixture over the casserole evenly around letting the liquid soak into the dish before adding more until finished. Dot bit pieces of butter across the top. Place casserole dish onto a lined cookie sheet and bake for forty-five minutes until cooked through and golden brown on the top.