Hot chocolate or coffee with whipped cream  served with a candy cane, marshmallows, and gingerbread star

Most of us give a lot of thought to food during the holiday season, Thanksgiving through New Year’s.

Here in central Pennsylvania, we have our favorites. I remember when my family would gather to enjoy oyster stew (and some oysters might find themselves in the turkey stuffing), pig’s stomach, pickled beets, dried corn, pork and sauerkraut, mincemeat pie and, of course, ham with green beans and potatoes.

Dairy products usually played a significant role in our holiday meals, with raw-milk butter and fresh milk for the oyster stew, stuffing, and grandma’s wonderful homemade rolls and breads. There was never a shortage of homemade eggnog, hot cocoa, and custard pies!

Speaking of butter, USDA indicates that the consumption of butter (the real thing) has increased over the past 20 years, rising from 4.5 pounds per person in 2000 to 6.5 pounds in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I believe my family and I beat that average by quite a few pounds.

What are the expectations for butter purchases over the holidays?

Well, it is hard to fathom this, but Americans will be buying 161 million pounds of butter between the second week of November through Christmas. That is a lot of butter, enough to make 11 billion butter cookies.

It is safe to say that the pandemic has contributed to a 400% increase in recipe searches as more families engage in home cooking and baking. And the trend of more butter use is continuing.

I should probably also be thinking of other seasonal uses of dairy products. Several of our Pennsylvania milk processors make flavored milks during the holidays. While eggnog is always a favorite, your family might enjoy some unique milk flavors such as chocolate mint, pumpkin spice, red velvet cake or snickerdoodle.

Dairy products can also be part of traditional gift-giving. Many of us enjoy the gift of cheese. If you plan to buy for a cheese lover, consider visiting some of our Pennsylvania artisan cheese makers (visitpa.com) who would be happy to help you pick that perfect present. Paired with a cheeseboard, it should please anyone.

I am sure that most people would enjoy a cheese ball with gourmet crackers, which you can purchase already made or make your own. And what about some flavored hot chocolate mixes (containing powdered milk)? And who wouldn’t enjoy some egg custard or rice pudding in a decorative bowl, or a homemade custard pie, or a cheesecake?

There are some factors that may affect supplies of dairy products this year, but many of those are regional. For example, milk supplies for cheesemaking are holding steady and appear to be adequate along both U.S. coastal areas, but availability is tightening in the Midwest. Labor shortages have also decreased production in some plants, and while milk output has been strong, availability could decrease with colder weather. Unfortunately, USDA is reporting that lower than expected farm milk volumes in some parts of the country have resulted in short supplies of some manufactured dairy products even before the holiday season began.

But I have faith that we will all find the things we want and need. We are so lucky in the commonwealth to have many local processors and manufacturers, so we should be able to find that unique cheese or other dairy gift, ice cream, flavored milk, and butter for cooking and baking.

The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board supports the many ways our dairymen, processors and retailers work to provide dairy products for use by commonwealth consumers during this special time of year. I encourage all my readers to consider adding special dairy foods and gifts to your plans for the holiday season. You won’t be sorry, and neither will your family and friends!

We are always available to respond to questions and concerns. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 or by email at chardbarge@pa.gov.

Carol Hardbarger is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board.

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