As Christmas approaches, Lidl have created a minor controversy in the UK by stocking reindeer meat in their deli counters. The animal welfare group Viva! has expressed concern that wolves and bears are shot in order to preserve reindeer numbers. Presumably it is OK for reindeer to be eaten, but only selectively. Whether Rudolph-loving consumers will take to reindeer steak is a moot point; I first tried it when attending a BOLFA (Biology of Lactation in Farm Animals) Conference in Stavanger some years ago. Distinctive in its very dark appearance and gamey in taste, I would be happy to try it again. I have never, to my knowledge, drunk reindeer milk, and I suspect that most of you will be equally naive in this respect. Compared to other milks, reindeer has a very high fat and protein content* (hence Santa's muscles!) but an equally low lactose content. It has been used to produce cheeses and yogurts by nomadic cultures in Lapland, Siberia and Mongolia, but has received little commercial interest. The Finnish cheese Juustoleipa was traditionally made from reindeer milk, but nowadays cow's colostrum, or beestings, is used. There is no evidence, however, that Juustoleipa was ever produced specifically as a Christmas delicacy, indeed it was dried to the point where it could be stored for months or even years. Maybe Christmas and dairy specialities do not go together; I am struggling to think of any, apart, perhaps, from Danish risengrød (Christmas rice pudding) and the cheese that George Orwell described as the "best of its type in the world", Stilton. Around half of the annual production of Stilton is sold in December, so be sure to order early if you want to enjoy Christmas! What of the animals, do they have a good time at Christmas? A couple of years ago Chattanooga Zoo invited donations of Christmas presents for their animals and actually produced gift wish lists, presumably including at least one choo-choo! And of course there is Gloria the Christmas Cow, happily modelling her knitted Christmas jumper to promote the charity "Send a Cow". A donation of £205 will ensure that a needy African community receives a cow (but not neccessarily in time for Christmas), and hopefully the skills and resources to look after it. Yes, Christmas is nearly upon us, and DairyCare and the cows, goats, sheep, reindeer and others that we love, wish you the very best of the Festive Season!
* Medhammar et al (2012) J Sci Food Agric. 92:445-74