By Jorge Gonzalez-Garcia
Two California dairy farmers are finding a new way to turn the fluid milk they produce from a product they can sell at commodity prices into a gourmet product that commands a premium price from consumers eager to enhance their experience of food.
Noel Rosa and his brother, Rolland, own and operate Rosa Brothers Milk Co., based in Tulare, in the heart of the nation’s richest agricultural area. Rosa Brothers is very much a family operation, with seven members actively involved. The farm employs 35 workers, covers 600 acres, and manages a herd of about 1,000 Holstein dairy cows.
The Rosa family connection to this rich farmland goes back seven decades. “The farm was started by my grandfather in 1953, continued by my father, and now by my brother and I,” says the 47-year-old Rosa. “That’s a span of more than three generations that our family has been here working the farm and producing dairy products.”
In the fall of 2012, Noel and his brother took a big chance and built a creamery to produce and distribute specialty products like whole milk and flavored milk in glass, and premium ice cream. The idea was to distribute the products to local retailers. A small store was added next to the creamery for local visibility and direct sales.
The brothers made the move for a couple of reasons. One was in response to severe swings in commodity prices in 2009. “They can be very tough financially for a medium-sized dairy farm like ours,” Noel explains. “We needed to create more stability in terms of product, pricing and sales revenue.”
The other reason was the growth of the local food movement in his area. Rosa saw that it was picking up steam. “Our research showed that consumers preferred milk in glass bottles,” Rosa says. “They love the taste, they like that it comes from a local farm, and they support bottle recycling. What we’re doing is a natural extension of the growth of the farm to table movement right in our own area.”
A hundred miles to the northwest, in a small valley next to the river Merced near the town of Winton, lies PH Ranch, home of Top Line Milk Company. It used to be a working cattle ranch. Now it’s the dairy farm owned and operated by Paul van Warmerdam and his wife Sonya. They farm 860 acres, have 55 employees, and manage a herd of about 2,500 Holstein cows.
Top Line Milk is brand new to the specialty milk products business, having launched at the recent Natural Products West Expo 2016 show in Anaheim this past March. “I can’t really point to our specialty milk sales because we’re just starting out,” says the 51-year-old van Warmerdam. “But people at the show loved our milk, and our low and slow pasteurization method. They told us it reminded them of the taste of milk when they were kids, and milk came right off a local farm.”
Van Warmerdam and his wife had talked about expanding into premium dairy products in years past. Then came 2009, with wild swings in commodity prices. “2009 was a bad year,” he says. “We had record low milk prices and high feed prices, and a lot of people left the business.” That experience reinforced their goal of building a successful dairy business that could withstand fluctuations in the commodity market, and that they could leave to their children. Moving into specialty milk seemed like a creative way to do that.
They also considered glass bottles for their milk, but opted instead for white plastic bottles to reduce ultraviolet light exposure and extend shelf life. “We made that decision for a number of reasons,” says van Warmerdam. “We didn’t want to be the third or fourth glass milk bottle company. Also, we wanted to be able to sell into smaller convenience stores. The extra space needed to handle glass returns can be an issue. So those were all factors.”
Top Line Milk emphasizes its low and slow pasteurization process. “Low and slow is our slogan,” says van Warmerdam. “The milk comes out of our cow, we add the minimum of heat to meet pasteurization standards, and it goes into the bottle. It cannot be any fresher or tastier than that. And that was our goal from the beginning.”
Van Warmerdam is now looking to build out his distribution network. “We would like to grow regionally to the Bay Area, and then Sacramento and Fresno,” he says. “We’re in a niche market, so our rollout will be slow and strategic.” Closer to home, he plans to take advantage of traffic passing by his place by setting up a drive-through window for a couple of hours a day so customers can buy directly.
For Noel Rosa, wholesale growth has been solid. “In our first full year of creamery operations, we grew from zero to 70 retail outlets,” he says. “And we won new product of the year in 2013 at the Fresno Food Expo. That gave our sales a boost.” This year Rosa Brothers is selling product in 225 stores in its area.
Industry insiders do not see explosive growth for the specialty milk market, and they caution against unrealistic expectations. “We project slow, steady growth for this segment of the market,” says Murray Bain, Vice-President for Marketing at Stanpac, the large Canadian container manufacturer which supplies bottles to premium milk producers. A California Dairy Advisory Board report for 2015 shows that milk in glass bottles amounted to less than two percent of total sales for the entire state.
Noel Rosa understands the challenge of operating profitably in a niche market. And he takes the long view that as long as there are customers who prefer milk in glass, support the farm to table movement, and are willing to pay a little more for premium quality, he will have buyers for his products.
The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® program, the nation’s only advanced training program of its kind for veteran cheesemakers, has graduated seven new and three returning Master Cheesemakers. The 2016 class is among the largest in the 22-year history of the program, which was established through a joint partnership of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, UW-Extension and the dairy farm families of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB).
With 59 active Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers working in 32 companies across the state, the Masters hold certifications in 35 cheese varieties, from familiar classics to artisan originals. Cheesemakers entering the rigorous three-year course of study can seek certification as Masters in up to two cheese varieties each time they go through the program.
The newest Master Cheesemakers, who were formally certified at an April ceremony during the International Cheese Technology Expo in Milwaukee, are:
Joining them in the 2016 graduating class are three Masters who returned to the program to gain certification in additional varieties. They are Brian Jackson of Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield, Tom Jenny, of Carr Valley Cheese in Mauston, and Gerard Knaus, of Weyauwega Star Dairy in Weyauwega.
Jackson, previously certified for Monterey jack, cheddar, brick and Colby, graduates with additional certifications in muenster and gouda. Jenny has been part of the program since its inception and has been previously certified as a Master in Swiss, fontina and gouda. He now graduates with additional certifications in Shepherd’s Blend and Bessie’s Blend, two Carr Valley originals. Knaus, a third-generation cheesemaker who was certified in 2012 for feta and parmesan, this year earns additional certifications in brick and Colby.
“The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program continues to elevate our state’s leadership position in the industry,” says James Robson, CEO of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. “The fact that there are so many first-time Masters in the 2016 class is particularly exciting. It’s a major professional accomplishment for them personally, but their commitment to education, innovation and excellence is something that all of the Masters take into the plant with them every day. Their expertise has an impact on product quality and, by becoming Masters, they inspire others within their companies to follow in their footsteps and do the hard work to become certified, as well.”
Marin French Cheese’s Triple Crème Brie with Black Truffles took the coveted Best of Class Award for flavored soft-ripened cheese at the World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison, Wisconsin, March 7-9, 2016.
Made with fresh cow’s milk and cream from neighboring Marin County dairies, Triple Crème Brie specked with Black Truffles lends itself to an irresistibly earthy aroma of mushrooms balanced with sweet cream, each year earning high distinctions in regional, national and international contests alike.
Other honors conferred to the Marin French team of dedicated cheesemakers during this recent competition include third place in the soft-ripened category for Petite Supreme, a high butterfat, extra-crème cheese with an aroma of sweet milk, and fourth place for Traditional Brie in the brie category.
Equally impressive, Sonoma-based sister company, Laura Chenel’s, received accolades once again this year for its creamy, fluffy-textured Original Chabis fresh goat cheese, garnering third place in the Soft Goat Milk Cheese category. The Orange Blossom Honey Log won its first award at the event, placing third in the Flavored Soft Goat Milk Cheese with Sweet Condiments category, while the Chabis Garlic took a fourth place prize in Soft Goat Milk Cheese category. Laura Chenel’s Original Buchette was recognized with a fifth place award.
“Each year we are impressed by the increasing level of competition at this highly regarded competition,” says General Manager Philippe Chevrollier. “We are very proud of our cheesemaking teams at both Marin French and Laura Chenel’s for being such strong contenders where ingenuity, skill and know-how are key,” he adds.
The World Championship Cheese Contest, established in 1957, is organized by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. This year, the organization saw a record 2,955 entries from 23 countries and 31 states. For a full list of awards go to http://wccc.myentries.org/contest/results?event=59 .
In celebration of its centennial anniversary, Clover introduces its newest dairy delicacy, an organic nonfat Greek yogurt line to add to its selection of more than 175 dairy products, which range from natural and organic milks, butter and cheese, to craft ice cream. The company’s superior-quality organic Greek yogurt is carefully crafted in authentic Greek tradition, using fresh Clover organic nonfat milk and the finest of premium organic fruits. Silky smooth and mildly tangy, this authentically-strained yogurt has a thick, creamy texture to delight all palates. Clover’s Greek yogurt comes from happy cows that enjoy American Humane Certified, family-owned farms. With the highest standards for quality, environmental stewardship and animal welfare in the industry, these happy cows produce the best organic milk on the market.
“Our Greek yogurts are available in five delicious flavors and make great snacks – packed with protein, calcium and live cultures that make them the perfect addition to a healthy diet,” said Clover President and Chief Executive Officer Marcus Benedetti. “And true to our passion for excellence, they contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.”
Clover organic Greek yogurts are also free of antibiotics and growth hormones and not fortified with powders or unnecessary unpronounceable additives. Authentically strained and with a smooth, creamy texture, Clover organic Greek yogurts are also less tangy than many other Greek yogurts. Each fruit variety is bursting with flavor and whole nutrients, with the second ingredient listed being premium organic fruit next to the first ingredient of Clover organic nonfat milk. Sweet and tangy come together in the classic Blueberry Greek Yogurt, which combines floral and jammy notes of organic blueberries. Savor the fresh-picked essence of sweet, sun-kissed peaches plucked from the tree that perfectly pair with the milk to make a creamy Peach Greek Yogurt treat. And prepare to fall in love with the flavorful Black Cherry Greek Yogurt, exploding with tart organic cherries with subtle floral notes of cassis and fresh-baked pie. America’s favorite flavor got better, too. Clover blended its fresh milk with aromatic vanilla bean to create a rich, tantalizing Vanilla Greek Yogurt that’s perfect for breakfast, a healthy snack or nutritious smoothie. And the Plain Greek Yogurt is anything but plain – this rich yogurt has a luxurious mouth-feel and texture, perfect in pure form or with other foods.
California’s Artisan Cheese Festival selected winners last week in a Saturday night celebration entitled “California Cheesin’.”
First prize went to Peloton Catering for Beehive Cheese Potato Bacon Fondue.
Second place went to Block Butcher Bar for Toast with Dairy Goddess Farmstead “The Valley” Fromage Blanc with House Cured Lomo, Pickled Onion, Arugula, Olive Oil and Maldon Salt, and third place went to Nick’s Cove Restaurant – for Pt. Reyes Toma & Dungeness Crab Fried Mac n Cheese.
Wisconsin cheesemakers dominated the competition at the recent World Championship Cheese Contest, including taking home the top prize, 2016 World Champion, for Team Emmi Roth USA’s Roth® Grand Cru® Surchoix, a Wisconsin Original hard smear-ripened cheese. This marks the first time a cheese made in the U.S. has won the competition since 1988.
This year’s contest drew a record-breaking 2,955 entries from 23 countries, 31 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Wisconsin captured 38 percent of all awards, winning 127 awards total, over 100 more than its closest competitor, California, with 25 awards and New York with 24 awards.
Wisconsin cheesemakers won 42 Best of Class awards, 37 second place, and 47 third place awards. This year’s contest marked the sixth consecutive World Championship in which Wisconsin has won more than 30 percent of all awards, claiming 37 percent in 2006, 30.8 percent in 2008, 31.3 percent in 2010, 37.8 percent in 2012 and 39 percent in 2014.
“This award reinforces what people around the world already know-our reputation for making some of the world’s greatest cheeses is well deserved,” said James Robson, CEO of Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB). “Exceptional milk from Wisconsin dairy farms becomes exceptional cheese in the hands of Wisconsin cheesemakers, and that is a hard combination to beat. We congratulate Team Emmi Roth USA on their win, and consider it a win for the entire state of Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin cheesemakers also swept 20 of 110 competition classes: Open Class: Shredded Cheese, Flavored & Unflavored; Prepared Cheese Foods; Mozzarella, Part Skim; Parmesan; Aged Asiago (over six months); Feta; Feta, Flavored; Havarti; Havarti, Flavored; String Cheese; String Cheese, Flavored; Brick, Meunster; Gouda, Flavored; Smear Ripened Hard Cheeses; Bandaged Cheddar, Mild to Medium; Bandaged Cheddar, Sharp to Aged; Cold Pack Cheese, Cheese Food; Cold Pack Cheese Spread; Pasteurized Process Cheeses; and Colby.
Two of Jasper Hill Farm‘s cheeses, Moses Sleeper and Winnimere, were awarded Best in Class awards, with Winnimere ultimately placing in the top 16, at the World Cheese Championships in Madison, Wisconsin. This year’s contest included 2,959 entries from 23 countries and 31 states.
In addition, two of Jasper Hill’s other cheeses, Harbison and Bayley Hazen Blue, placed in the top five in their categories, with scores of 98 or higher. Oma, made by von Trapp Farmstead and aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, also placed fifth in its category.
More about the winning cheeses:
Moses Sleeper is an approachable and nuanced brie-style cheese. Beneath its thin, bloomy rind lies a gooey, milky core showing a complex array of flavors at peak ripeness: cauliflower, crème fraîche, and toasted nuts. The cheese’s historic namesake, Moses Sleeper, and his compatriot Constant Bliss, were Revolutionary War scouts killed while defending a blockhouse along the Northeast Kingdom’s legendary Bayley Hazen Military Road.
Winnimere is a take on Jura Mountain classics like Vacherin Mont d’Or or Fösterkäse. In keeping with this tradition, this decadent cheese is made only during winter months when Jasper Hill’s herd of Ayrshire cows are enjoying a rich ration of dry hay. Young cheeses are wrapped in strips of spruce cambium, the tree’s flexible inner bark layer, harvested from Jasper Hill Farm’s woodlands. During aging, the cheese is washed in a cultured salt brine to help even rind development. At peak ripeness, this cheese is spoonably soft and tastes of bacon, sweet cream, and spruce.
All of Jasper Hill’s award winning cheeses can be purchased where fine cheeses are sold, at Jasper Hill’s retail counter within the newly constructed Boston Public Market, or from Jasper Hill Farm’s online store.
Oregon-inspired culinary events, including a farmer’s market-style artisan food, beer and wine festival, will kick off with the Meet the Cheesemakers and Winemakers Dinner @ the Oregon Cheese Festival during the third weekend in March. For tickets go to http://oregoncheesemakersdinner.bpt.me/
To commence the festival, a sumptuous meal introducing guests to participating guild cheesemakers will be held Friday night at the Inn at the Commons in Medford, Oregon on March 18 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. The dinner is held for the benefit of the non-profit 501 (c) (6) Oregon Cheesemakers Guild. Each course will spotlight a cheese made by one of the festival’s artisans, paired with a local wine or beer. Special guest include Gordon Edgar, the author of both “Cheesemonger: a Life on the Wedge” and his most recent book, “Cheddar: A Journey into the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese.” Edgar is the Head Cheesemonger for the San Francisco Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, and has been a leader within the specialty cheese industry for more than 20 years. He is widely celebrated for his friendly, down-to-earth approach to the art and science of cheese. Lassa Skinner is also a special guest. She is co-founder and owner of the highly regarded cheese magazine Culture, now in its eighth year. In 1999 she started a cheese program at Tra Vigne restaurant, opened the Oxbow Cheese Merchant in downtown Napa, co-authored Cheese For Dummies (2012) – and started Culture magazine. Skinner is passionate about spreading the love of cheese across the US and beyond, teaching at venues across the country and overseas as well as partnering with chefs, wineries, breweries and all things food-centric.
Saturday, March 19 – Festival
At the festival on Saturday March 19 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., thousands of visitors will sample cow, goat and sheep cheese from Oregon creameries, including Pholia Farm, Ancient Heritage Dairy, Oregon State University, Ochoa Creamery, Tillamook County Creamery, Willamette Valley Cheese Co., Fern’s Edge Goat Dairy, Oak Leaf Creamery, Rivers Edge Chevre, Briar Rose Creamery, Face Rock Creamery, Portland Creamery, Rogue Creamery, and many others.The Oregon Cheese Festival will be open to the public Saturday, March 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Rogue Creamery, 311 North Front St. (Hwy. 99), Central Point, Oregon. Held under two large tents, 15,000 square feet of space, at Rogue Creamery’s Central Point facility, the 12th annual festival will invite guests to shake hands with cheesemakers and other artisans. There will also be baby cows on site to showcase the beginnings of great milk producers. Activities will also be provided for children including games, activity sheets, coloring, face painting and more.”The farmer’s market format will present an interactive experience between makers and visitors, giving everyone an opportunity to talk about the product, the process and learn each individual cheesemaker’s story,” says David Gremmels, President of Rogue Creamery. “It’s a way to truly be connected with the source of the cheese being presented.”
Southern Oregon and other local culinary artisans and beverage providers who are expected to participate include Lillie Belle Farms, Gary West Meats, Applegate Valley Artisan Breads, Ledger David Cellars, South Stage Cellars, Serra Vineyards, Caprice Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards, David Hill Winery, La Brasseur Vineyard, 30 Brix Winery, Wandering Aengus Ciders, Hot Lips Soda, Clear Creek Distillery, Bend Distillery, Wild River Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing and Rogue Ales. Samples and /or sales will be offered at each booth.
A $15 entry fee includes tastings and demonstrations; tickets purchased at the door will be $20. Entry tickets can be purchased in advance at http://oregoncheeseguild.org/event/12th-annual-oregon-cheese-festival/ . In addition, a $10 wine, beer and spirit tasting fee is available and includes a commemorative glass with the Oregon Cheese Guild logo. For more information contact the Oregon Cheese Guild website @ www.oregoncheeseguild.org, Rogue Creamery at 866.396.4704, or www.roguecreamery.com. The festival would not be possible without the generous support of the City of Central Point, the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, and, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Rogue Ales, Culture Magazine, Travel Medford, Cheese Connoisseur Magazine, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Umpqua Bank, Haggen Northwest, Face Rock Creamery, Rogue Credit Union, and the members of the Oregon Cheese Guild.
Laura Chenel’s Chèvre has been recognized by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) for meeting one of the highest levels of food safety standards in the production of its line of fresh plain and flavored goat milk cheeses. The BRC’s Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is an internationally recognized food safety credential becoming a fundamental requirement of major food retailers around the world. GFSI certification insures that Laura Chenel’s production meets food industry and legislative requirements across the UK, EU and US, including most of the recently enacted FSMA rules in the US.
Laura Chenel’s has a history of high level quality production standards in its state-of-the art Sonoma creamery. “Since the plant was completed in 2010, we’ve worked to establish systems that ensure our products are the highest quality and our facility exceeds food safety regulations,” says Eva Guilmo, Quality Director for Laura Chenel’s and sister company, Marin French Cheese. “GFSI certification is an external or ‘third party’ audit that evaluates quality, food safety and operational criteria ensuring that as manufacturers we meet our legal obligations while providing consumer protection to retailers and our end customers.” Retailers commonly require third-party audits from food producers and by achieving this high-level GFSI certification, Laura Chenel’s products will be streamlined for approval by independent and large retail chains. The certification is renewed annually.
BRC is the leading certification body in the UK, recognized across Europe and the US, with over 23,000 certified facilities in 123 countries.
Stonyfield, the leading organic yogurt maker, is introducing three new products aimed at providing customers more ways to enjoy the delicious flavor and nutritional richness of organic whole milk yogurt. With a new line of 100 percent grassfed yogurts and new whole milk offerings for already popular Stonyfield Greek and Pouch lines, consumers have even more reasons to reach for yogurt.
“During Stonyfield’s first years, plain, simple, whole-milk yogurt was all that we made. In the 90s, diet fads led consumers to fear fat,” said Ana Milicevic, Brand Manager from Stonyfield. “But that simply wasn’t the whole story. Since whole milk provides a wealth of benefits –and tastes great – we’re excited to satisfy an increased demand and return to our roots.”
“Organic whole milk yogurt is an incredibly satisfying, traditional food – something I think many Americans are starting to embrace,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using dietary changes to help balance moods, sharpen brain function and improve mental health. “Plus, it’s a satisfying way to get important nutrients like protein and calcium.”
The Next Chapter: Grassfed Yogurt
Stonyfield’s new organic 100% Grassfed Whole Milk yogurt begins in the pasture, with milk from cows who graze exclusively on grass. Rich and creamy and filled with all the delicious, nutritional qualities of full fat dairy, this cup of yogurt is the perfect choice for a whole breakfast or snack.
Stonyfield is proud to be sourcing its organic 100 percent grassfed whole milk from Maple Hill Creamery, another company passionate about producing milk in a way that is good for the planet, good for the cows and good for people.
Maple Hill Creamery cows are 100 percent grassfed, meaning they eat all grass, all the time (no grain, no corn) throughout the year (even in winter!) to produce whole milk with a rich, unique taste. In collaboration, Stonyfield and Maple Hill Creamery seek to make organic 100 percent grassfed yogurt accessible on a national level to more people than ever before.
To help consumers identify 100 percent grassfed vs. other varieties of grassfed (supplemented with corn or grain), Stonyfield has achieved independent Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) accreditation, noted right on the label of every yogurt cup. Stonyfield Organic 100% Grassfed Whole Milk Yogurt is currently available at Whole Foods Markets nationwide in 6-ounce Vanilla, Strawberry, Blueberry and Plain cups as well as 24-ounce Plain and Vanilla.
The Plot Thickens with Whole Milk Greek
Adding to its Greek nonfat yogurt family, Stonyfield’s Whole Milk Greek delivers a rich, creamy taste that only comes from full-fat dairy. The yogurt is packed with calcium and protein and new fruit-filled sidecars allow for flavor personalization. Available at national retailers in 5.3-ounce cups of Plain, Strawberry, Vanilla, Blueberry, Honey and Cherry, Stonyfield will also offer Whole Milk Greek in quarts of Plain and Vanilla – perfect for families or recipe creation.
A Conveniently Packaged Ending
The whole story concludes with a solution for bringing whole milk goodness on the go – with the introduction of Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Pouches. The entire family will love being able to grab a convenient, hand-held pouch for a delicious, satisfying snack on the go. Stonyfield Whole Milk Pouches are available nationwide in Pear Spinach Mango, Strawberry Beet Berry, Vanilla and Blueberry – all available in single serve pouches. Additionally, each flavor except blueberry is offered in a four-pack as well.