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The Instacart buying guide to dairy

The category of dairy products includes any food products made from milk that comes from animals. The most commonly consumed dairy products come from cow's milk, although cows are not the only milk-producing animals whose milk is used in food products. Goat and sheep milk products also fall under this category, and in many countries, people consume the milk of camels, buffaloes, and other mammals. Some of the top dairy products among American buyers include milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, and butter.

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FAQs About Dairy

Since milk is one of the most commonly used dairy products, one frequently asked question is how types of milk differ. Whole milk, also referred to as vitamin D milk, contains 3.25% fat by weight and is the closest version of milk to what comes directly from the cow.

All milk sold in major retailers goes through a pasteurization process, but the amount of milkfat that remains in the milk differentiates the four main types. As the name suggests, 2% contains 2% fat by weight, while skim milk contains no fat. The amount of milkfat impacts the fat grams and number of calories in each serving of milk.

As mentioned, lactose is a sugar that occurs naturally in the milk of mammals, including cows, sheep, and goats. If a person's body doesn't naturally produce lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, they often experience health symptoms and side effects when they consume dairy products.

Lactose-free milk is an option for those who are intolerant to the naturally occurring sugar. This is cow's milk that includes lactase as an additive that breaks down the lactose. Lactose-free milk contains the same key essential nutrients as milk containing lactose and is a healthy dairy product that enables lactose-intolerant individuals to enjoy milk without experiencing the side effects.

Butter is a dairy product made from the protein and fat components of cream or milk. When produced, butter can include salt and will indicate on the package whether it's salted or unsalted. Both types of butter work well for cooking, although the type you select depends on your own personal preference. By using unsalted butter, you maintain more control over how much salt will go into the recipe.

If the recipe calls for salt to taste, you can sample the dish as you add the ingredients to determine whether more salt should be added after adding salted butter. However, if you do use salted butter, you won't have as much control. When buttering bread or adding butter as a topping, many people prefer the flavor of salted butter.

Most dairy products can safely be frozen, although it's important to note that the texture or appearance may change after freezing. If you want to freeze milk or other dairy products in liquid form, make sure to leave at least a half-inch of space in your airtight storage container, as the liquid will expand when frozen. Freezing shredded cheese often yields better results than freezing a block of cheese.

When you're ready to use the frozen dairy products, allow them to defrost in the refrigerator before use. Since the texture may have changed, you may want to use them as ingredients when cooking rather than consuming defrosted dairy products as is. Dairy products are perishable by nature, so you should store them at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If you leave dairy products out by mistake, you should throw them away after they are out for two hours (or one hour in 90 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer).

All commercially produced dairy products should include an expiration date on their packaging. Some products include several dates, such as the “sell by,” “use by,” and “best if used by” dates. The sell by date is for the retailer who sells the product to determine when it should be removed from store shelves. It's best to buy dairy products that have not gone beyond their sell by date, although you can still safely consume them.

The use by date is the last date of recommended use for peak freshness and quality. You can typically still consume or use dairy products that have gone beyond that date, as long as they have been stored and handled properly. The best if used by date is the last date of recommended use for the best quality or flavor, which means it may taste slightly different after this date. 

Shopping for dairy products is easier when you use Instacart, and you can find all your favorite products that come from local retailers. Place your order now to get all the dairy products you need, whether you're looking for the basics, such as milk and butter, or you want to add some fancy cheeses to your next charcuterie board.
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