Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dairy Delivered

When I was growing up, we had an insulated metal box outside the side door to the kitchen. This is where the milkman left our regular delivery of milk and eggs and butter and such.

Does that make me an antique? Many of you may be too young to remember the milk man. He arrived in a big, white step-up truck, wore a uniform with a hat and carried the milk in a kind of metal basket that had little nests for the glass bottles. When we finished a bottle, we'd clean it out and put it back in the metal box for the milkman to take on his next delivery.

That, in the old days, was how you got your milk. This was before bovine growth hormones, before cows were routinely injected with antibiotics to stave off the diseases that arise when animals are jammed together too long indoors, before genetically engineered corn. All that changed with the advent of industrial agriculture. Most consumers have no idea anymore what's in their milk or how the cows have been raised. And milk became something you had to buy at the grocery store.

Well, this week we stepped back into the future. We recently learned that a certain dairy in Frederick County, Maryland, was making deliveries to the District of Columbia. We took a look at the company's web site, liked what we saw, and signed up for a weekly allotment. We took our first delivery yesterday: glass bottles of milk, half-and-half and raspberry smoothie, tubs of unsalted butter and a dozen eggs.

Prices are comparable to what we pay at the local Whole Foods: $2.25 for a quart of 2 percent milk, $4 for a quart of half-and-half, $3.50 for a quart container of smoothie, $3 for a dozen eggs and $4.75 for a pound of butter. Delivery is $3.50. This would be our standing weekly order (unless we change it), but you can add any of a number of different items, including cuts of pork, beef, lamb, turkey, chicken as well as cheese, yogurt, bread, jams, honey and even prepared meals.

The name of the dairy is South Mountain Creamery, apparently the only dairy in Maryland that processes milk products on site. I learned about it when I began looking for places where I could photograph a commercial yogurt operation for the food classes I teach. The more we looked, the more we liked the idea of supporting a local dairy that makes deliveries.

South Mountain is a family operation that started in 1981 on rented land. They now own the land and have several employees. They don't claim to be "organic"--I'm not sure exactly why--but insist that their products are made "naturally" without bovine growth hormones or antibiotics. The cows get a choice of feed mix in the barn or grass in the open pasture. "What the cows are fed here, is raised here. " Their beef cattle, according to the company website, are grass fed.

Cheeses and yogurts are made on the premises, but pork, chicken, turkey and lamb are grown elsewhere, some locally, the chickens purchased from a farm in New York State.

"We had a tough time finding a local person to raise and process chickens, so we had to go and find someone who meet our high standards," according to the website.

The farm is always open to the public for visits. Visitors can watch the cows being milked in the afternoon, or help bottle feed baby calves. Every so often customers are invited to the farm for a festival of barbecue, hayrides and family entertainment. What's not to like?

South Mountain Creamery is located in Middletown, MD, 60 miles from our home. Gas prices being what they are, I worry what the effect will be on a local dairy trying to maintain its delivery base of some 2,200 customers. But as Humphrey Bogart once famously said to Claude Raines, we are hoping this is the beginning of a wonderful friendship.


Michelle said...

Ed, thanks for the review. I've been thinking about delivery from South Mountain, but haven't taken the plunge yet. I believe that they're not organic because the certification would be very expensive for an operation of their size. Maybe I'll give them a try soon!

grace said...

my husband (also an antique?) remembers his milkman. "dick the milkman" he was called. and one time, tim was locked out of a friend's house, so he climbed through the milk door to get in!

Alicia said...

I haven't taken the plunge for delivery but to get my local dairy fix I scoot over to Timor Bodega on 2nd and Rhode Island NW.

Mojito @ said...

We've been getting milk from South Mountain since fall and love it. On the organic issue, I think I recall hearing/reading something about them not being able to guarantee that fields neighboring theirs aren't treated with pesticides. While they don't use pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc., they can't control the pastures next to theirs. I can't find the source now, but I know that for many smaller operations, there are so many things you have to do to get official certification, it's often just not worth it.

Bob del Grosso said...

Ed, I'm guessing they don't claim to be organic because they did not choose to take the time and the expense of getting certified.

Also, I know this sounds nuts, but it is not always in the small "chemical" free farmer's best interest to bother getting rubber stamped by an agency whose standards might be lower than what he may set for himself.

Put another way, a small farmer with standards that go beyond what the is demanded may not want a label that is shared by those who only meet the federal standards.

Mosby said...

So? How does it all taste? A friend up near Frederick has bought their milk in the past and says it's mostly delicious, but a bottle or two tasted "alarmingly like manure." We need a review here!!

Ed Bruske said...

Michelle, there are a number of issues surrounding organic certification. Bob del Grosso speaks to that in another comment. I won't know until I talk to the dairy. I'm hoping to pay them a visit soon.

Grace, that is very fun. Do you think Tim was permanently scarred by that incident?

Mojito, the business about the pesticides in the neighbor's fields in interesting. Reminds of the farmers Monsanto sued because of the genetically engineered sees took root on their property. It's tough staying organic, but I wouldn't want to guess what the issue is until I talk to them.

Bob, what you are saying sounds very similar to the situation our farmer friend Brett is in. He's the guy who grows greens in the middle of winter in Southern Maryland and sends them to us in our CSA box. I don't think he touts himself as "organic" for those very reasons: he doesn't think much of the USDA standards or their inspection (lack of) practices.

I am very envious of the farm experiences you've been having lately, Bob.

Mosby, I tried the raspberry smoothie and it was outstanding. I'll let you know about the 1/2 & 1/2 and the 2% milk soon.

Alicia, thanks for the link to the dairy in Pennsylvania. You are very lucky to have access at a small store in the neighborhood. Who knew?

Joanna said...

How wonderful to think that there's a dairy delivering milk less than a mile away from the White House.

I get my milk from our veg box, which comes once a week. On day seven (or six if I'm unlucky), any remaining milk turns, and then it, too, smells alarmingly like manure - but I like to think that's because it's real milk, not the pretend stuff we've all been having to drink these past decades. So we try hard to make sure it's all drunk up before it turns


Jess said...

I'm so excited to see dairies and dairy cooperatives going back to "the old ways"... We're lucky here to have Oberweis--they deliver milk (in glass jars) into the same front porch coolers. It is literally less than 36 hours from the time the cow is milked to when the milk arrives on my doorstep. At least on Mondays. :-) The milk, consequently, tastes AMAZING. They also deliver dairy products and frozen treats/meat, but that's not really locally produced. Their chocolate milk is, however.

Like your dairy, they treat the cows really, really well and the milk is rGBH and antibiotic free; they just haven't gone for the organic label b/c they want to protect the cows.

As they say:

"Our cows can be treated with antibiotics when the cows are ill, but their milk is not shipped to us until the cow's milk is free from the presence of an antibiotic. Producers making organic milk must remove the cow for upwards of 2 years if they are ill so they often continue to milk the cow as long as possible (when they hit the 750,000 somatic cell count they must stop). Most of the time their ill cows are sent to slaughter because it is too expensive to keep a non-producing cow. ... We believe our treatment of the cows is more humane."

The Baklava Queen said...

I guess a young thing like me is also an antique now because I remember our next-door neighbor getting the home delivery (though she had a metal box for the milk on the back porch). We didn't get milk delivered because both my parents worked outside the home, so I didn't get to enjoy that myself.

But wow, Ed... raspberry smoothie??? Lucky you!!!

bbrown said...

Don't feel like an old-timer! I'm just 26, and my parent's got milk delivery the whole many years I lived with them. In fact, I think they just cancelled their subscription a year or two ago because their dairy stopped using glass bottles. Nothing tastes better than fresh milk from a glass bottle...

Laura said...

We had a milk man when I was a kid, although he delivered in cardboard cartons. I always loved milk day. Now we get our milk in glass bottles, but have to go to the co-op to pick it up. I really wish they would start delivering again around here.

How were the eggs?

Melissa said...

We get their milk every week at the Waverly Farmer Market in Baltimore.

We asked about the organic designation and they said that getting certified organic is a long, paperwork-intense process that is too much for a smallish operation.

If you ever come up Baltimore way, I'd also recommend Trickling Springs, available at the Baltimore Farmers Market (starts in May) or TH-SU at the Mill Valley Garden Center. Their ice cream is AMAZING.

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, if it turns, it wants to be yogurt. Don't deny the milk what it wants to be.

Jennifer, we make smoothies a lot around here. But I have to say, the one from the dairy is pretty darn good.

BB, I guess I just assumed that milk deliveries were a thing of the past. I'm glad to hear from so many people that they aren't. And you're right: the milk tastes better in a glass bottle.

Laura, the eggs are the same ones we get at Whole Foods. The eggs we get fresh off the farm in our CSA box are much better: big and orange.

Melissa, it's funny you mention Trickling Springs, because that's the dairy that supplies the bodega Alicia mentioned in her comment. I'd like to try that one, too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed, We live around the corner and really should do more than wave once in a while.... just discovered your blog yesterday from DCist.

We have been debating a South Mountain order since they stopped coming to the MtP Farmers Market two years ago. What day and what time to they deliver for you? And, their prices are lower than the grass-fed milk we have been buying from Whole Foods. -- Lynn

Ed Bruske said...

Lynn, go to my profile and e-mail me.

Leslie Heimer said...

My mother and father live right outside of Hagerstown and pushed a few years ago to get local milk delivered to their area. Now they get milk delivered every monday. So they western Maryland crowd can get local milk as well!
My mother makes cheeses, yoghurts, and butter out of south mountain creamery milk. There are other local dairy distributors in the area, such as Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, PA, but she finds that South Mountain Creamery is the best, the freshest, the closest, and the most reliable. Yay for them! If you're in the area, I definitely recomend checking out their store. They have yummy ice cream, lots of awards, and friendly faces and lots of cows.
With so many dairy farms in the area lets hope there's more to come in the future!

Ed Bruske said...

Leslie, we just today switched from 2% homegenized to whole milk with cream. We want the whole creamery experience. I'm hoping to pay the dairy a visit soon.