At the beginning of the weekend, Kyle and I set out on a 3-hour drive to Franklin County, VA. I made some egg sandwiches and iced coffee before we hit the road. Can you guess where we were headed?
The long country roads eventually led us to Homestead Creamery, producer of the best milk in Virginia.
Kyle and I met up with Brandi and Nick on a beautiful summer day to learn about our favorite creamery and tour the production facility and dairy farm. Brandi is a new blog friend who is an excellent writer and photographer. Based on her posts, I think she is probably a phenomenal baker as well. Check her out at branappetit.com.
I purchase Homestead Creamery milk weekly at Kroger or Ellwood Thompson, but I had never tried their butter or ice cream before our visit. I had heard that their ice cream was amazing but I don’t usually keep ice cream in the house unless I buy it for a special occasion. What drew me to their milk was the fact that they are a local, sustainable operation that uses recyclable glass bottles and produces high quality milk without the use of hormones or antibiotics. What kept me buying their milk week after week was the superior taste and the bottle deposit program. When you buy a bottle of Homestead Creamery milk, the purchase price includes a $2 bottle deposit, that is returned to you when you bring your bottle to the grocery store you purchased your milk from. Then the bottles go back to the creamery to be cleaned, sanitized, and reused.
Glass bottle conveyer belt
Over the last year, I have become very conscious of where my food comes from, particularly animal products. I try to eat all eggs and dairy from happy, healthy animals. This can be particularly challenging in restaurants or while eating at other people’s homes. While dining out, I don’t always know the origin of the cheese on my sandwich or the milk in my coffee, but I am still working on making mindful choices every day. However, one thing that I can easily control is the food that I bring into my home. I felt confident that the products from Homestead Creamery met my ethical and quality standards, but I still wanted to see for myself.
Enter Donnie Montgomery, co-owner of Homestead Creamery.
Donnie graciously set up a private tour for us outside their normal tour schedule. He warmly greeted us at the farm store and then spent three hours telling us the story of his 10-year-old creamery, showing us how the current operation works, and patiently answering all of our questions along the way.
We started at the beginning, where the milk comes in to the creamery on large trucks. It is then brought in to a holding tank and mixer. It is here that they skim the milk to the right fat content and sometimes add flavors, like chocolate, strawberry, and orange cream. The white and chocolate milks are all natural; the strawberry and orange cream are not due to the artificial coloring that they add at this step in the process. Next comes the homogenizer and the pasteurizer.
Finally we saw the bottling operation.
Bottle sanitizer and conveyer belt
Donnie also showed us the butter churner and ice cream machine. The butter is molded and wrapped by hand. Likewise, the ice cream is hand scooped into containers for sale. Neither of these processes has been automated yet. I kind of like it that way.
Ice cream machines
Cold Storage AKA Ice Cream Heaven!
There was no milk in storage because Homestead Creamery’s milk is as fresh as it gets. The milk is brought in from each of their two dairy farms, located less than 10 miles away, every morning. It is minimally processed, bottled, and sent out to the grocery store the same day or the next morning. To get a better idea of where all the milk comes from, Donnie took us out to his farm.
Isn’t she adorable? Donnie has about 100 cows, and they are each milked at 4:30 AM and 4:00 PM every day. We got a chance to see the milking parlor and Donnie explained how the milking apparatus simulates milking by hand. I was relieved to hear that the cows are content to be milked, and most will walk right into the milking parlor on their own, without prompting, when it is their turn.
I was fascinated by the production process and the cows at the dairy. And being the supply chain nerd that I am, I was equally intrigued by how the supply chain has morphed over the last ten years in order to grow distribution to a larger geographic area as efficiently as possible. Although local customers still receive home deliveries from one of the creamery’s milk trucks.
Of course I was also interested in how they plan to continue to grow the business and Donnie spoke candidly about the different product lines that they had tested and were planning to roll out in the future. I love getting an insider’s perspective on my favorite products.
When we returned to the creamery, we took in the beautiful scenery and met some of the other animals that call the creamery home.
And then it was time for ice cream!
Words cannot describe how delicious this cherry vanilla ice cream was.
The difference is the creaminess. If I may paint a picture for you. . . most ice cream producers whip a bunch of air into their ice cream which makes it very light and fluffy. Homestead Creamery does not. It is thick, heavy, and creamy. It is smooth like gelato and the flavors are perfect. Of course the difference may also be the minimal processing, the happy cows, and the commitment to quality. But seriously. . . the creaminess. . . Find this ice cream and don’t turn back! I think we’ll be making some room in the freezer to buy this on the regular.
Overall, we had a great time at the creamery. Now that I’ve looked the milk-producing-cow in the face and seen the pasture where she grazes and the process that brings her milk to my local store, I feel even better about bringing Homestead Creamery’s products into my home. Donnie was a fantastic host, and our travel companions were awesome too. Brandi and Nick are super nice, cool people with whom we discussed everything from ice cream to the housing market to horror films. It is so fun to meet people in person that you feel like you already know through their blogs.
After all that I experienced this weekend at Homestead Creamery, I highly recommend that you do two things:
1. Check out this Whole Foods Whole Story post about Homestead Creamery.
2. Try their products if you’re local. Set up a tour if you’re able. You won’t be disappointed!