Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Snowville Creamery – A Dairy With A Difference

Got (Good) Milk?

A story featured on our local National Public Radio station caught my ear last week. The item profiled dairyman Warren Taylor, the owner and operator of Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy, Ohio.

Warren Taylor has been a dairy engineer – and a self-described dairy nerd – for more than 30 years. He's worked for Safeway's Dairy Division, is an expert in high temperature-short time (HTST) pasteurization systems, and was one of the group of experts who wrote the current "3-A Standard" for HTST pasteurizing systems.

In 2006, Mr. Taylor testified before the the Ohio State Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on H.B. 534, a bill that would allow farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers under certain circumstances. That bill failed. Here is part of what Warren Taylor said to the Subcommittee:

"I agree with advocates that raw milk can be produced, distributed and consumed safely. It is already being done. I also agree with those who express grave concerns about raw milk safety who argue that no system of checks and balances can ever guarantee perfectly safe raw milk. We should admit that no system of checks and balances and regulations have ever succeeded in a perfect safe supply of pasteurized milk either. This is not to say that raw milk is risky, or suggest those who accept the risks can waive the raw milk producers obligation to provide a safe product. Fresh raw milk can be as safe as other dairy products.

I do not agree with those who propose that farmers be encouraged to bottle their own milk and sell it to consumers without putting in place checks and balances. I am advocating for a formal Grade A Raw Milk Program in the State of Ohio including checks and balances and regulatory supervision, record keeping and traceability, which will safeguard our health and Dairy Industry."

The following year, Warren Taylor established Snowville Creamery. Snowville's milk comes from a free-grazing mixed herd of Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein and Jersey cows. The herd returns to the barn for its twice daily milking. The raw milk is sampled for lab testing, and is promptly pasteurized and packaged in a separate facility just 100 yards from the barn. The milk is sold through retailers in Ohio, and is also available out-of-state, in Pittsburgh, Louisville, Lexington and the Washington, DC area.

Snowville maintains its own quality control lab, testing every batch of raw milk for total bacteria ("SPC") and coliforms. The fresh raw milk consistently achieves a level of microbiological cleanliness that would permit it to be sold directly to retail customers in states such as California, where retail sale of raw milk is allowed.

The low bacterial level – a result of careful attention to sanitation as well as to design – enables Snowville to pasteurize its milk at the minimum HTST temperature allowed by law: 165ºF, versus the 175ºF conditions used by major commercial dairies. According to Mr. Taylor, the company's pasteurized milk typically has a bacterial count of less than 10,000 and a shelf-life of 20 days (when held at 43ºF). And, thanks to its dedicated fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks, Snowville Creamery's milk makes it from the cow to the retail dairy case in 48 hours or less.

Of course, quality comes at a cost. A half-gallon of Snowville's milk sells for $3.00 in DC-area Whole Foods Markets, according to the NPR story. But there clearly is a market for Warren Taylor's milk. Snowville Creamery turned its first profit this month.

A tip of the hat to Warren Taylor and Snowville Creamery for demonstrating that showing a profit and producing a safe, high-quality food product are not mutually exclusive.

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