Ethiopia is among the countries with the highest malnutrition burdens. Dairy is of particular nutritional importance, but Ethiopian per capita consumption is low. This study investigated the drivers and barriers to dairy consumption among rural households in West Amhara, Sululta-Fitche, Adama-Assela and Hawassa–Shashemene project clusters of SNV-BRIDGE project, using a combination of a) focus group discussions with community members; b) key informant group interviews with community leaders, religious leaders and health extension workers and c) quantitative household survey data. It found that cow ownership is the main factor associated with a higher average number of days on which yogurt, milk, buttermilk and cheese is consumed by rural households. More dairy was also consumed by those who report “Improves education performance”, “Good for growth” and “Prevents disease” as advantages of milk consumption. For yogurt, two factors were found to be associated with dairy consumption frequency. Firstly, respondents who reported “gives energy” as an advantage of consuming yogurt consumed more yogurt than those who did not report this advantage. Secondly, respondents that reported that they didn’t know about disadvantages consume less yogurt. The study concludes that efforts to increase dairy consumption in rural communities should promote cow ownership first, having the largest short-term benefit as the market does not (yet) form an alternative source. However, cow ownership should not be promoted without addressing the issue of the availability of animal feed. Respondents in general were aware of the fact that dairy has health benefits, but still experience a need for nutritional information. Specifically, there appear to be knowledge gaps regarding populations with special nutritional needs and regarding products where there was disagreement on healthiness (especially whey and yoghurt).