Do you know where your milk comes from? Did you ever wonder why some milk tastes rich and others watery? Why does some milk have a wonderfully pleasing taste while others have an off taste? Most milk is co-mingled and trucked in from several different states. The milk comes from different types of cows with different feeding and processing. We learned this and much more after visiting with Ginny and Jimmy Franks of Southern Swiss Dairy in Waynesboro, Georgia.
We first met the Franks family at the Georgia State Fair last year over a container of their chocolate milk. We went to see their beautiful Swiss Dairy cows and they offered us some of their milk which is bottled at their own processing plant at their farm. This was unlike any other chocolate milk we had ever tasted. That rich, cold, velvety chocolate taste that lingered in our mouths…It brought back memories of my childhood and having Bassett’s Ice Cream from the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. That was the richest dairy product I had ever tasted until this milk!
The quality of the milk produced by their cows and the higher fat content made this milk something special. Of course, we knew this was going to be an On the Road adventure at first sip. We just had to wait until this Spring to get to their farm!
Southern Swiss Dairy is a small family operation in southeast Georgia with 140 milking cows (the majority are Swiss Dairy cows). They have 950 acres of land and grow supporting crops on much of their property including corn, barley, hay, rye grass and oats. Ginny’s family has always been involved in dairy farming and after living in North Carolina and South Carolina over the years, managing some larger herds over that time, they moved to this property in 1987.
There are six main breeds of dairy cattle (Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Milking Shorthorn and Ayrshire). Most of the milk that we get at the grocery store is from a combination of these cattle, so you would never know how a particular cow’s milk would taste. Swiss Dairy cows are very popular because their milk is highest in protein and fat. These cows also have a wonderful temperament which impacts the flavor of milk. Stressed cows are not happy cows and happy cows produce better milk.
Most whole milk that you purchase will be 3.25% fat. The milk fat is 3.5% in the Southern Swiss Dairy whole milk. If you have ever wondered why 2% milk varies so much in taste, it is because 2% milk can range (by law) between 1.1 – 2.5% fat. At Southern Swiss Dairy, their 2% milk has exactly 2% fat. Their milk is not homogenized, so you will find that you need to shake it well before drinking it or using it in cooking to mix the fat into the milk properly.
Brown Swiss cattle are known to be the oldest of all dairy breeds. They originated in the northeastern part of Switzerland. They tend to hold up better under heat so they produce more milk in hot climates. Since they are not adversely affected by the warmer climates, they are able to eat more (therefore producing more milk).
They also do not seem to have the same breeding problems as some of the other breeds (like the Holsteins). They have good feet and udders and stay in the milking herd for more lactations than other dairy breeds. These cows will grow to an average weight of 1600-1800 pounds and will live to be 10 to 11 years old. They will generally breed or “calve” once a year.
The Franks are involved in a dairy coop which is the way most small dairy farmers market and sell their milk. Their cows will produce approximately 900 gallons of milk per day. That means each cow is producing approximately 6 1/2 gallons per day. Their cows are milked twice a day. I’m thinking that’s a whole lotta chocolate milk… and a lot of work!
Their coop is regulated by Federal and interstate regulations. The regulations make it very difficult to make a profit from their milk. The milk is co-mingled with other farmers’ milk and they have to truck their milk to Florida to sell it to the coop. Jimmy told me that if the coop falls short on the milk that it needs to cover its customers, the shortfall is then divided amongst the coop members to cover the cost of trucking it in from somewhere else.
The Frank family recently decided to bottle and market their own milk and milk products as a way to make a profit on their own branded milk, in addition to working with the coop. Although they are using their own milk (that has never left their dairy farm and has only traveled several feet to the processing plant) to make and bottle their own dairy products, they still have to sell their milk to the coop first and then buy it back. Jimmy said that much of the time they are paying more for their own milk than what they can sell it for.
Selling direct to the customers has created many challenges for this family that already has more than a full-time job just maintaining a dairy farm on a daily basis. They are now in the business of dealing with the public, selling and delivering their products and spending time marketing their milk. Their children are involved with the family farm and even the nephews like to come and help out Aunt Ginny on vacations, but the day-to-day operations are incredibly labor intensive. I wonder how many of us could take on a business with this much capital cost and complexity and make a go of it?
The Franks now have less time to show their cattle (which is how we met them). They are very proud of the fact that they breed the cattle that they show and do not buy them. They have been bred, born and raised by their family and are always pleased with wherever they place. They are truly beautiful cows and happy too! I can vouch for that.
The Franks sell their dairy products at their farm, but also deliver them to convenience stores and some Farmers’ Markets in Georgia. Savannah has been a great market for their products and has been very supportive. Southern Swiss Dairy products are also sold at Buford Highway Farmers’ Market in Atlanta and they deliver there every other week, so if you are in the Atlanta area, I suggest you purchase some of their truly fresh from the farm dairy products.
Thank you so much to the Franks family for sharing your story with us and taking time out of your busy schedule to let us visit your farm. We came home with chocolate milk (of course we did!), whole milk, skim milk, buttermilk, heavy cream and fresh churned butter. I put every bit of these wonderful products to good use.
I made whole milk ricotta cheese that was soo much better than what you can buy at the store (a recipe that includes the fresh ricotta will be coming at a later date). I also made a Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Cake (from some of my own frozen Meyer Lemon juice) and used their heavy cream to make homemade whipped cream. Be sure not to overcook the cake. It should be golden brown on top, but spring back when lightly touched in the middle. This is a lovely summer dessert that will literally melt in your mouth made from farm fresh buttermilk and topped with whipped cream and strawberries!
If you have never had fresh milk like this and all from the same farm, you need to. There is nothing better. And please remember, support your family farms. They are producing a truly wonderful product that we don’t want to lose.
Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake with Fresh Berries
Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (I used my own juice that was frozen and then thawed)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
Homemade whipped cream
Fresh berries (I like strawberries or blueberries with this dessert)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Blend buttermilk, 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, flour, butter, and salt in blender until smooth. Transfer buttermilk mixture to medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Gently fold buttermilk mixture into whites in 3 additions (batter will be runny).
Pour batter into prepared dish. Place dish in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of dish. Bake until entire top is evenly browned and cake moves very slightly in center but feels slightly springy to touch, about 45 minutes. Remove dish from roasting pan.
Cool cake completely in baking dish on rack. Refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 6 hours. Spoon pudding cake out into shallow bowls. Top with whipped cream and berries.
Adapted slightly from Epicurious.com