Celebrating National Milk Day

By Ann Thelen

Happy National Milk Day! Nearly 140 years ago – on Jan. 11, 1878, to be exact – milk first started being delivered in sterilized glass bottles. Today, milk remains one of the freshest items in grocery stores as milk comes from the dairy barn to store shelves in less than 48 hours. Milk is about as fresh and local as it gets, so let’s raise a glass to this delicious product and thank the Iowa dairy farmers who produce it!

Milk — which has nine essential nutrients that are necessary for good health — is the core ingredient in many of the foods we love, including cheese, yogurt, butter, sour cream and ice cream. It’s also a staple used in many mouth-watering recipes such as AE Dairy’s Grandma Erickson’s Mac ‘n Cheese, which you’ll find below. 

AE Dairy – An Iowa Family Dairy Icon

Since 1930, AE Dairy — one of the few family dairy companies left in the U.S. — has been making delicious dairy products right here in Iowa. AE prides itself on being a different kind of dairy, one that begins with their roots. Iver Erickson, grandfather to Miriam Erickson Brown the company's current President and CEO, started AE Dairy in 1930 during the Depression (not a great time to open a business). And the competition was pretty stiff — there were 150 dairies in Des Moines with operating permits. Through the years, the family business has immersed themselves in all things dairy because dairy products have a way of bringing people together. 

AE Dairy’s believes they know what families want in dairy because they are a family, and they are committed to Iowa’s dairy farmers Their milk comes from family farms in Iowa, and in less than 24 hours, the milk is changed into your favorite products — cottage cheese, dips, chocolate milk and more — and is on its way to grocery shelves. To give you an idea of how much milk the company receives daily — one cow produces 90 glasses of milk a day, and the milk AE receives daily weighs more than 1,000 cows. If the average weight of a dairy cow is 1,400 lbs. — that is 1.4 million pounds of milk! Now, that’s a lot of milk!

Healthy and Happy Cows Equals Delicious Dairy

As the official AE ambassadors, Annie the cow and Eric her calf are the much loved "icons" that act as greeters in front of the AE Dairy plant in Des Moines. At 14' tall and 2,500 pounds of fiberglass, Annie has graced the intersection of Hubbell and University since 1966. Her 5'7" calf Eric has been by her side since 1977.

But, those aren’t the only cows treated well by AE Dairy. The farmers in Iowa who supply AE Milk give the cows complete freedom. The cows can move, sleep, eat and drink in an open space protected from temperature and humidity extremes. The cows have comfortable lodging including the bovine form of a waterbed. The bed is made of sand, which is very clean, and forms to the cow's body shape. The beds are warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

The cows are fed a nutritious blend of feed, which is carefully balanced by a nutritionist (most have Ph.D.s) who visit the herds regularly. This includes corn silage and alfalfa hay most of which is grown locally by the dairy farmers themselves. Because the cows receive such good care, their milk has a clean, pure flavor with high levels of nutrition and is tested and retested (more times than you can imagine!) for purity. 

Milk — A Powerhouse for Your Health

Milk is a powerhouse when it comes to nutrition. Athletes and those who exercise often look to milk as their drink of choice to provide fluids, carbohydrates, proteins and electrolytes the body needs to recover. Chocolate milk contains an optimal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio making it a great option to choose to help refuel tired muscles. In fact, chocolate milk is known to be twice as effective as a typical sports drink.

A recent study published by Food & Nutrition Research supports that milk and dairy products not only contribute to meeting daily nutrient recommendations but they also may protect against the most prevalent chronic diseases. Among the list, the study shows milk and dairy consumption is associated with a reduced risk of childhood obesity and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke in adults. 

We like to celebrate milk all year long — for both its delicious taste and strong nutritional benefits! When Iowa's January weather has us looking for comfort food, this recipe —made with wholesome dairy products — will warm your spirits. The Erickson family version of a comfort food classic is sure to take away the January blues! Add a side salad, and you're ready to serve up a delicious dish your whole family will love!

Grandma Erickson's Mac 'n Cheese

Makes 6-8 servings


  • ½ of a 14.5-ounce box of elbow macaroni (we like whole grain pasta)
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (we like a combination of Colby, Sharp Cheddar and Havarti)
  • 1 container (12 ounces) AE Cottage Cheese (any variety)
  • 1/8 tsp garlic salt
  • 15 saltine crackers, crumbled
  • 2 TBSP butter, softened
  • 2 cups AE Milk (any variety)
  • Freshly ground pepper


Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray; set aside. Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the shredded cheeses, cottage cheese and garlic salt. Fold in the drained macaroni and transfer to the prepared casserole dish. Top with the crumbled crackers, dot with butter and sprinkle with pepper. Carefully pour enough milk along the side of the dish (without disturbing the cracker topping) so you can just see it around the edges. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately. 

This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish for a larger group.  Recipe courtesy of AE Dairy. For more delicious recipes, visit www.aedairy.com/recipes.