Fast forward to my teenage years, when I developed an inseparable love of ice cream. Tubs of Ben and Jerry’s fueled me straight through to my twenties. Even now, I find it hard to go more than a week or two without it. (Dairy, I mean, not Ben and Jerry’s). While others in my family find dairy to be less than kind to their digestive system, I seem to thrive off it.
It’s no wonder, then, that when The American Dairy Association Mideast invited me to take a little trip with them and a few other food bloggers, I jumped at the opportunity!
Here we all are, overlooking the gorgeous rolling countryside of Ohio… yes, it’s true, Ohio isn’t all flat and boring. From left to right (after yours truly): Tanya (Lemons for Lulu), Jocelyn (Inside BruCrew Life), Lindsay (The Lean Green Bean), Karly (Buns in My Oven), Lisa (Garnish with Lemon), Aimee (Shugary Sweets), Christina (Dessert for Two), and last but not least, Erin (The Law Student’s Wife). Meeting these lovely ladies in person was definitely the highlight of this trip for me!
Another highlight of the trip was, of course, the food. To kick things off, our trip started with a wine and cheese tasting at the Lakehouse Inn and Winery, along with a quick lesson in how to pair wines with food. All of the wines and cheeses were locally made and hand crafted — we even had the wine maker himself there to answer questions and tell us about what we were tasting.
I’ve never thought of myself as a big wine drinker, but if you follow me on facebook, you know I was having myself a grand ol’ time.
After having a chance to sleep off some of the alcohol, we hit the road bright and early to join some local farmers for their morning milking. We began by visiting Richman Farms, a family owned dairy farm of about 80 cows, where they showed us the ins and outs of their morning routine.
Besides your average Holsteins, Richman farm also raises Brown Swiss and Jersey cows. You can tell they take great pride in their cattle from how well cared for they are, and inside the barn the walls are adorned with medals, ribbons, and photos of their best-in-show.
From there we headed down to Sugarcreek, Ohio, to another family owned farm, Andreas Dairy, which milks some 1,300 cows and has around 35 employees. They are one of the biggest dairy farms in Ohio, and it was impressive to see the hard work that goes into maintaining something of that scale!
One of the biggest misconceptions about dairy farms is that they are harsh, dirty places, where the animals are not well taken care of… but in reality it is nothing like that. In fact, I was amazed to see just how clean they were — not a single fly in sight, and the stinkiest smell you could find was the scent of the cow’s feed, which had been fermented. Not only did they have superb hygiene practices, but the cows had plenty of space, were well fed, and the rate of illness was almost non existent. While I might have expected this of a smaller dairy farm, it was really impressive to see such practices taking place at one of the biggest farms in Ohio.
I think many of us have a picture in our minds of commercial meat farms, where cows are packed together like sardines, up to their knees in filth, and being fed all manor of stuff designed to grow them big, and grow them fast, so they can go off to slaughter before they die of disease. Well, dairy farms are just the opposite. To produce the most milk possible, the cows have to be healthy and well cared for. If a cow gets sick, or needs to be put on antibiotics, it’s milk is unusable, so it’s in the farmers best interest to keep the herd in tip top shape.
It was great to see this for myself, and appreciate the effort that goes into caring for so many cows.
While we were there, we each got to feed one of the calves that had been born just the day before. I ain’t gonna lie, I kind of wanted to bring one of them home with me.
In between all the milking and feeding and farming, we made a pit-stop at Pearl Valley — a family owned cheese making company — to see the full cycle of milk from farm to finished product.
Besides getting a tour of the factory (and getting to wear some seriously sexy hairnets), we also got to sample lots and lots of cheese. I may or may not have come home with several pounds, too. Of cheese, I mean. And gained weight. Whatever.
The adventure didn’t stop there, though. We were also treated to dinner at the Brown’s football stadium, where we got to meet the Cleveland Brown’s tackle, Joe Thomas (who I may or may not have known/cared who he was prior to meeting him… sorry, I’m not up on my sports knowledge). Joe was there to tell us about the program Fuel Up To Play 60, which encourages kids to eat right and be active. The program also helps bring better nutrition into schools… which was exactly where our next stop was.
With the help of Fuel Up To Play, a few Ohio schools have been fortunate enough to be able to offer their students breakfast. For many of the kids attending these schools, this is their only opportunity to eat in the mornings and get the nutrition they need.
Having been homeschooled my entire life, this was my first school cafeteria meal ever. I had a few pre-conceived ideas about what cafeteria food would be like, but was surprised to see fresh fruit on the menu, along with milk, and whole-wheat breakfast wraps. It was great to see so many kids chowing down on fresh pears!
Once the students hit the books, we hit the road, and headed to Cleveland’s West Side Market…
… where we got more cheese. Oh yes, the dairy-lover in me was having a blast! We each picked out a hunk of cheese, then took our loot across the street to Crop Bistro, where we had a fine-dining experience unlike anything else.
Walking into the upstairs of the restaurant, you’d think it was just a normal, sit-down bistro. But being led down into the basement and through the kitchen, you find that the restaurant is actually built around an old bank vault, originally from the 1920’s.
This thing was the real deal. It had the big circular door the bad guys are always trying to break into in the movies, and everything. It’s been converted, of course, with tables and chairs, into a second dining area.
Here we got to speak with the chef and owner of Crop, Steve Schimoler, before being served up a three course lunch (as well as a huge sample platter of all the cheeses we had picked out earlier). Needless to say, I was beginning to feel a little full.
Fortunately for my waistline, this was the last stop on our journey. It was such a fun experience, though, I had a hard time letting go. Thankfully, I have plenty of cheese in my fridge to remind me just how good it was.
I owe a big thank you to the ADA for inviting me along, and giving me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. I learned a bit about food, a lot about farming, and made some new friends along the way!
Now, what’s your favorite way to eat dairy? I love me some cheese (clearly), but I think my heart belongs to ice cream. What about you?