The Secret to Catalonia’s Delicious Organic Yogurt? Happy Cows!
Ana Serra never thought she would end up being a dairy farmer. Like many kids who grow up in the country, after finishing her education she left her family’s farm in rural Catalonia, Spain for a career in the city. In 1987, stressed out by the demands of business, she and her husband, Alfons Mir, returned to the farm, Granja la Selvatana, for some much needed rest and relaxation. This time, they stayed.
These days, Ana has swapped her business suits for a full-length vinyl apron and a baseball cap, worn backwards to hold back her unruly curls. At the crack of dawn each morning she rolls out of bed and climbs into the “pit,” a concrete slot between two raised platforms where her cows wait to be milked. On this particular morning I watched from above as she cajoled the cows with a series of whistles and “hey-heys.” Once they were in position, she turned to our small group and demonstrated how to milk a cow.
“Press, go down, leave it,” she explained, gripping her forefinger with her other hand and sliding it down to her fingertip. “Come, you can try if you like.”
I descended the dung-coated metal steps gingerly, taking care not to slip, and stood beneath one of the enormous black and white beasts. Anxious for the pressure of her swollen udder to be relieved, the cow mooed and shuffled back and forth. I reached up, grabbed a teat and firmly slid my hand downward. Miraculously, a steady stream flowed out; I was milking a cow! My elation was soon tempered when the cow’s tail slapped me, painting my mauve t-shirt brown with poop. Fortunately, automatic milking machines have long replaced the manual method. Once we’d all had a hand at milking, Ana cleaned the teats and udders of each cow before attaching vacuum-driven pumps. When the udders were drained, the machines stopped automatically and the cows scampered back to their feeding troughs.
The 80 Friesian cows at Granja la Selvatana, all descendants of the original 50 brought over from Denmark by Ana’s grandfather in 1970, range in age from 14 down to a calf that had been born just 12 hours earlier. We took turns feeding the baby with a huge bottle as Ana explained why her cows live so much longer than those on other dairy farms.
“They are supposed to pay the bills. They have to pay the electricity, the people who are taking care of them. Normal farms, they want milk, milk, milk and they give them a lot of food – weird foods that make more milk – and they put hormones in. This makes the cows die.”
Early on, Ana and Alfons decided against running an enterprise based on profit alone.
“What usually people do is that you milk and you put it in the tank, and…a truck gets all the milk…and you don’t see it any more. So, what happens? When you get up in the morning and you are very tired…you can do what you want because you don’t care. Nobody’s gonna see it because they are gonna mix it with everybody so you don’t have that much responsibility. What we decided to do is to create our own brand and start selling (organic yogurt). This is very cool because you are happy. In the morning, when I am tired I remember the face of the kids when I come to school to take the yogurt and they are all in the playground and they go ‘Wow! The yogurt, the yogurt!’ And you see those faces and you remember and you make things with more ‘elotion.'”
I chuckled when she said “elotion,” because her mispronunciation was so appropriate, the combination of emotion and love is clearly present in all that they do. And I’m pretty sure that the cows would agree. Not only are they fed on a healthy diet of 60% grass and 40% cereal with no added soy, they are also free to go out to the pasture once they have been milked. I overheard Ana whisper to our hosts that we should stick around until the cows were all milked, promising that we would see something “muy impresionante.” So we moseyed over to the office, where we were offered small sample cups of Biogust, without a doubt the richest, creamiest yogurt I had ever tasted. Two cups later I reluctantly followed the group back to the barn, casting a longing glance backward at the still half-full tub of yogurt.
Ana lined us up in a row on one side of the barn door. “Don’t be afraid,” she cautioned. I heard them before I saw them, thundering hooves headed our way. Seconds later, one black and white head emerged, followed by another and another, until the entire heard was galloping by, headed for the open pasture. I never knew cows could move so fast! Ana was right; it was very impressive.
As for Ana, she has never looked back. “It’s very cool to make food. For me, the most important things are teachers, doctors, and farmers. These are the three professions that have extra values for humans,” she says. Granja la Selvatana may have happy cows, but they also have happy owners, and it shows in every delicious mouthful.
My trip to Granja la Selvatana was hosted by Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you are planning a trip to the Catalonia Region of Spain, you can visit Granja la Selvatana and learn about the production of Biogust organic Yogurt in person. For more information or to make reservations, contact the Girones Centre de Visitants (Gerona is the Catalan spelling of Girona) Avinguda de Franca, 221, Sarria de Ter, Girona 17840, Phone:972 011 669 (country code +34)