Saturday, December 6, 2014

New York State Dairy Tour 2014

Baby Calf at Patterson Family Farm
Do you know where your milk comes from? No, this isn’t a joke with a cutsie answer (“duh, a cow,” or worse yet, “duh, the store”). I mean, how does it get from the cow to the store to you? The process may surprise you.

On a recent weekend in the New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes region, I followed the entire process of milk production. Visiting the Patterson Family Farm in Auburn, NY, we met the sixth generation of this family that started dairy farming in 1832. Beginning with just 100 cows, they now have over 1,200 Holsteins. They also grow their own feed on 2500 acres (corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, grass, and hay). It’s a huge operation with 30 full-time employees, growing to 45 during harvest.

But their main focus is the health and well being of their “girls.” These cows are treated like VIPs – the best feed (each cow eats 130 pounds per day!), freedom to roam around the barn, soft beds, automated brushing stations, and Afi tag pedometers to measure their exercise. Imagine a bovine spa resort!
Patterson Family Farm

One of the highlights of the farm visit was meeting the day-old calves, which were so cute and friendly. What a treat it was to be able to bottle-feed them!

Owners, Jon and Julie Patterson, are part of an innovative group of central New York dairy farmers who invested in and own the newly opened, state-of-the-art Cayuga Milk Ingredients (CMI) plant, which was the next stop on our tour.

Opened in June, after a two-year build, this is a one-of-a-kind, $101 million milk processing facility, and we were one of the first bloggers to tour it. The plant uses the latest technology to separate high quality milk into high quality components that are added to other products to boost nutritional value. They remove the water from the milk to produce dry ingredients, extending the shelf life to up to 18 months, meaning that ingredients produced today can be feeding children in South America and the Middle East in a short amount of time.

CMI processes 2.6 million pounds of milk trucked in every day from the area’s 36,000 cows. Just to put this into perspective, it takes nine pounds of milk to create one gallon!

Some of the products CMI produces are skim milk, condensed milk, cream, and protein powders. In fact, CMI is only the third plant in the world that can make a 90% protein powder. In the future, they hope to produce infant formula.

The plant is totally computer-operated, and it takes only 6-9 people to run the entire plant. Obviously, there is a heavy focus on bio-security. We had to don paper lab coats, hairnets, and booties for the tour (we were oh so attractive!) and were not allowed to take any pictures (photos at CMI were provided).

After lunch at our hotel, Geneva on the Lake, we were off to the next logical progression in our dairy tour: a cooking class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center to create some delicious dairy-based dishes.  Opened in 2006, the center was built to create a place where the people of New York and visitors to the area could learn about and enjoy the delicious foods and wines of the region. Besides a well-equipped kitchen classroom for a wide range of culinary interests, the center boasts a restaurant, a Wine Spectator educational center, a wine tasting room, and a culinary boutique. It is quite impressive.

Chef Jeffory McLean (or “Cheffory,” as they call him), Lead Instructor at the center, paired the group into teams and gave us directions for our recipes. My husband and I were assigned “Inside Out Poutine.”
Cheese Curds!
Inside Out Poutine
If you are not familiar with it, poutine is the Canadian dish consisting of cheese curds, French fries, and brown gravy that is slowly sweeping the US (a poutine restaurant has just opened in Chicago). Having never tried cheese curds, I was a little skeptical, but after Cheffory explained it, I was on board. The basic premise is as follows: you take a bit of mashed potatoes in your hand and form a hollow. Insert small portion of a cheese curd (we used Buffalo wing flavor), add more mashed potatoes to form a ball. Dip into an egg wash, and then roll in Panko crumbs, and deep fry. They were awesome! These would make a fabulous Super Bowl snack. Other teams at the class made a crudité plate with yogurt dipping sauce, Parmesan cups filled with a terrific pulled chicken topped with sour cream, and for dessert brownie cups filled with vanilla ice cream. A great night cooking with new friends in a beautiful facility!

So our milk journey came full circle – from the cow to the processing plant to the table. Next time you pick up a gallon of milk, a quart of ice cream, protein powder, or some yogurt, think about the long trip it’s taken to get to your store shelf.

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council is a non-profit nutrition education organization funded by dairy producers in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Thanks to the ADADC for this informative, educational, fun, and delicious weekend!

All photos courtesy of Katie Becker Photography.

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