Background: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may protect from cardiovascular disease. Because fresh alpine grass contains high amounts of ALA, we hypothesized that the levels of omega-3 fatty acids would concentrate to nutritional relevance in the cheese of milk from cows with alpine grass feeding compared with cheese from silage and concentrate feeding; the newly available cheese produced from cows fed with linseed supplementation should contain even higher ALA concentrations.
Methods and results: Forty different cheeses were analyzed by gas chromatography for their fatty acid profile: (1) 12 from well-defined alpine regions around Gstaad, Switzerland; (2) 7 commercially available English cheddar cheeses; (3) 6 cheeses from cows fed with linseed supplementation; (4) 7 industrial-type Emmentals; and (5) 8 alpine cheeses with partial silage feeding. The alpine cheese contained 4 times more linolenic acid (C18:3omega-3) compared with cheddar, more total omega-3 fatty acids, and showed a significantly lower n-6:omega-3 ratio. Conjugated linoleic acid (C18:2 c9/t11) was 3-fold higher, whereas the amount of palmitic acid was 20% lower. The Emmental reached 40% of the ALA content compared with alpine cheese, and surprisingly, cheese from linseed-supplemented cows contained only 49% of that of the alpine cheese (P<0.001 for each trait in the 5 cheese groups).
Conclusions: Cheese made of milk from cows grazed on alpine pastures had a more favorable fatty acid profile than all other cheese types. Alpine cheese may be a relevant source of ALA and other cardioprotective fatty acids.