Got Milk? Why yes, I do


Courtesy of Madison Matlock

Junior Madison Matlock judges milk at the State FFA Milk Judging Contest.

“How do you judge milk?” People often ask this question when I tell them I judge milk through the National FFA Organization (FFA). The question comes with a weird look and a multitude of following inquiries:

“How do you not throw up?”

Well, I do… sometimes.

“Do you cry over spilled milk?”

All the time actually.

“What do you actually do?”

That is my favorite question. I love getting to explain the contest to people because it is actually quite fun. It can be a little gross sometimes, but I love the mental and physical challenge. Before I get into why I love judging, I should probably explain what I do. According to the Texas FFA website, “members develop a greater understanding of quality production, processing, distribution, promotion, marketing and consumption of dairy products.” Believe me, we do develop a greater understanding of the dairy industry. It might be because of the 300 test questions we have to memorize.

Believe me, we do develop a greater understanding of the dairy industry.

— Madison Matlock, 11

That may sound like a lot to handle already, but I have not even gotten into the best part. In the contest, we take a written exam over the 300 questions, do some serious math in the problem-solving section, and then there is actually judging the products. This contest takes mental and physical stamina considering you are relying on your taste buds to give the answer.

Have you ever pulled the milk out for a Saturday morning bowl of cereal and smelled that stench? You know, the smelly aroma of old milk. It is a distinct smell. Maybe a little cheesy? Well, we drink rancid milk for fun. One of the biggest parts of the Milk Quality contest is tasting milk for defects. Do not worry, we are not actually drinking chunky milk, but clean milk that has been manipulated.

For example, lipase is added to milk and agitated with heat to produce a sour flavor. That would be the rancid milk we taste. Along with the yumminess rancid brings, we also taste for acid, bitter, malty, feed, flat/watery, Garlic/Onion, oxidized and salty. This is where the mental strength comes in. While drinking a bunch of defective milk, it is hard to sort out all the flavors.

I will say, it is not hard to tough out the next two pieces of this dairy puzzle. I personally love the Cheese and Dairy ID part of the contest–not just because I am testing out whipped cream and yummy cheeses…well, that is the main reason, but it is still a challenge.

I have to constantly remind myself, ‘Madison, we are eating cheese for points, not pleasure.’

— Madison Matlock, 11

Cheese is relatively simple. Contestants go down a line of 10 cheeses and classify what they are. Personally, I love cheese, so it can be hard not to just eat them all and eat a lot. I have to constantly remind myself, “Madison, we are eating cheese for points, not pleasure.”

As in judging milk, contestants can talk themselves out of making the right choice while judging cheese. Milk Quality has taught me to stick with my gut feeling. If I know it is right, I do not question myself. Who knew cheese could teach a life lesson?

I cannot explain the difference the FFA and judging has made in my life. When I moved here from Lamesa over a month ago, I was so scared. I did not know anybody, I just wanted friends, and to be involved in something bigger than myself. I found that within Canyon FFA.

Everyone welcomed me with open arms, and I found a family. My “Lactose Ladies” and I became this inseparable group. I cannot thank Sarahbeth Hale, Brianna Ramsay and Kate Mischak enough for showing me true friendship with tears, laughter and long nights in the ag office together.

I also want to thank our ag teachers for making sure my transition was easy. It can be so hard to move to a completely new place the middle of junior year, but I fell right in among everyone else like I had been a student at Canyon for years.

To anyone considering taking an ag class or becoming involved in the FFA, do it. I cannot even remember the girl I was before I joined the organization. Overall, Milk Quality had an amazing year with a top 10 placing in the State of Texas. But it was not just all the hard work that got us there, but strength and the love of friends.

It is crazy to say, but I cannot wait to drink milk every day again.