Recently, I had the opportunity of flying cross country from my little boonie town in North Carolina all the way out to California for a dairy tour hosted by the Real California Milk Advisory Board! It made for an experience of a life time, and I wanted to share some of my trip with you.
Now, I’m doing this in 2 parts because I just have so much that I want to share. Part 1 is what I’m bringing you today, detailing all the things we did – and then in Part 2, you will have a little food tour with me as I show you all the yummy foods I was served, all made with products bearing the Real California Milk seal.
When I got off the plane, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then headed out to begin our tour. Our first stop was for a delicious cone of ice cream at the Meadowlark Drive-Thru Dairy in Pleasanton, California. They had some yummy flavors, but being a chocolate addict lover, I opted for a chocolate-vanilla swirl. So good!
Our next stop was at the Alviso Adobe Community Park, where we had the pleasure of meeting & chatting with Johan Bartelink of Bartelink Dairy – a Dutch immigrant who came to the US in 1957. Johan has spent most of his life as a dairy farmer, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak about his life & experiences in the dairy industry.
Jahan Bartelink & his wife,
Visiting the Alviso Adobe Community Park, which used to be the Meadow Lark Dairy, felt like it took me back in time, and I didn’t even need a flux capacitor to get there. -wink- We got to see how the dairies were operated in the past, and while lots of things have changed – one thing that hasn’t changed is the extreme care that is given to the dairy cows, and the quality of the products put out by the California dairy families. Yes, families. Most of the dairies operated in California are done so by families – and that speaks volumes.
Take a look at this gorgeous old stove in the kitchen area of the dairy bunkhouse. I would love to have this in my kitchen, so if any of you would like to send me one – I wouldn’t object. 😉
The evening ended with a beer/cheese pairing hosted by Chef Andy Wild & a fantastic dinner.
The next day, we visited Fiscalini Farms, which is the home to the 2007 winner of the best extra mature cheddar cheese in the WORLD! John Fiscalini is the forth generation dairy farmer behind it all, and the methods that he uses in both his dairy & in making his cheese really show in his final products.
John Fiscalini in the cheese aging room
Growing up in farmland myself, I’ve been to many dairies over the course of my life – and his was unlike any I’ve seen. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the smell, or lack there of. As a country girl, I know how strong the stench can be at a dairy farm, and I was surprised by how it didn’t smell like what I was expecting. The reason behind this is John’s environmentally friendly approach to running his dairy. Several years ago, he invested in a methane digester. To sum it up rather simply – it converts the cows waste into power to run the farm. How cool is that?
The Methane Digester at Fiscalini Farms
The cows all seem so happy, loved, and are exceptionally cared for. They have their own personal vet who comes every week to check on them, and is on call at all hours in case there is an emergency too.
Aren’t they cute?! I may have started talking to them in baby talk, and gotten some funny looks from the cows.
Moo-dels – Get it? I’m such a comedian.
Inside his cheese making facility – we got a behind the scenes look at how his prize winning cheeses are made. One advantage he has over the competition is his cheese maker, Mariano Gonzalaz – one of the top cheese makers in the world.
Seeing how the cheese was made was very intriguing, and even more intriguing was the way they were aged – or how long to be specific. They are aged for 18 months in the aging room before they are packaged, which creates the rich flavor in their variety of cheeses.
After we had seen everything, we got to divulge in a sampling of their cheeses. Did I say sample? I may have gorged just a little because they were absolutely delicious! If I had an award to give, they’d certainly receive it because the hard work, dedication, & love that goes into their cheese making process is just so evident when you take a bite into their cheese. Just incredible.
You can view Fiscalini Cheese’s online store here.
On my third and final day on the tour, I visited Karoun Dairies & met with cheese maker Rostom Baghdassarian.
Karoun was started by Rostom’s father, Anto – an Armenian immigrant who came to America to follow a dream & make a better life for his family. For quite a while, every dollar he made making cheese he turned right around and put it right back into the company – making it what it is today, along with the support from his family & friends.
From all his hard work & dedication, the company has grown and now sells a variety of cheeses nationwide, including hand braided mozzarella (which was an absolute joy to watch being made), basket feta cheese, Labne, and grilling cheese.
Karoun Dairies takes extreme measures to be sure their cheese is made in the cleanest of clean environments. We put on some extremely fashionable suits before we were allowed to enter. That’s me, 4th from the left. Pure hotness, right?
While we toured their facility, we were able to see them hand braid their mozzarella cheese right there in front of us. Wow – they did it so fast! It was like Speedy Gonzales, arriba, arriba! It was truly amazing to watch.
While I was touring all this, I saw why California is recognized as the leading dairy producing state in the nation. The climate, strict regulations put in place to protect the air & water quality, & the love and care given by the California dairy families influences all their products dramatically. They certainly made a believer, and a fan, out of me. After my experience there, I will most definitely be looking for that California Seal on my dairy products from now on. How about you?