Milk’s always been a constant in my fridge. I need it in the morning for coffee or a quick bowl of cereal, when I’m whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies or a yummy smoothie, and for those nights I’m awake past my bedtime (did your mom tell you milk would help you sleep, too?). This is not to mention the cheeses and yogurts that always take up shelf room: cheddar for the everyday, brie if I’m feeling fancy.
Because of my dairy love, I was really excited to head over to southern California and tour a local creamery and two locally-owned dairy farms, thanks to the California Milk Advisory Board.
Here are some trivia facts for the holiday dinner table: did you know California is the second-largest cheese-producing state in America? (Wisconsin is the first.) It was fascinating to learn more about how dairy products are made and packaged — and even better was the chance to meet dairy families and experts and put a face to the milk products we consume daily. So much food talk these days is centered around buying products locally for maximum freshness and quality, and it was wonderful to see how dairy farmers and cheese experts (is there a better job out there than a cheese expert?) fit into the fabric of the country.
Check out some highlights of the trip — and get a holiday recipe from the California Milk Board — after the jump!
Welcome to the Creamery! 1 of 10We were able to take a tour of a local California dairy, where products such as frozen yogurt and sour cream are made and packaged. It was fascinating to see the process — and the best part was the end of the tour, where we got to taste the results!
Keep on Truckin’ 2 of 10Milk comes to the dairy in trucks like these, and rigorous standards on temperature and cleanliness must be met before the dairy can accept it. Guess how many gallons of milk this carrier holds? 5,000! (I guessed 100. You know, I never won those guess-the-jelly-bean contests in school ...)
The Cheese Cave 3 of 10At night, we were treated to a beer and cheese pairing at the Cheese Cave in Claremont, CA. If you're in the area, I can't recommend this place enough. It's a speciality cheese shop run by Marnie and Lydia Clarke, two sisters whose family worked in California's dairy industry. Hearing them talk about their craft and their business, it was obvious they were passionate and excited about what they did. You can also pick up carefully selected boutique wines, handcrafted beers, meats and more — it's like a one-stop elegant party shop!
Cheese and Beer 4 of 10We were met with this delightful spread at the Cheese Cave — my favorite was a somewhat stinky (but delicious) Schloss that went smashingly with a seasonal Oktober-Fiesta beer from the Dale Brothers brewery. If you'd like to make great pairings at home, check out California Milk's Pair Savvy app (available for Droid, too!). I generally love cheese and beers no matter what they are, but it's nice to learn about the matching flavors and create an extra-special spread once in a while.
Dairy Farm Tour 5 of 10We were also able to tour two local dairy farms on the trip — this is a shot from the Scott Brothers Dairy, owned and run by Brad Scott (who was a gracious tour guide!). As you can see, it's pretty dry out here, but farmers have a good handle on ways to bring water to their animals and crops.
… And onto the Cows! 6 of 10Oh, yeah, that's where the milk comes from! Dairy cows are milked twice a day, and these cows had open access to food, sun and shade in their downtime (and a killer view of the mountains).
Just Hanging 7 of 10This shot is from the second dairy farm we were able to visit, owned by John and Essie Bootsma.
Hello There! 8 of 10The cows seemed very curious as to why we were there. I just wanted to say thanks for the sour cream we had eaten earlier!
Bye Cows! 9 of 10Did you know over 2.2 million pounds of cheese were produced in California in 2010, all thanks to cows and farmers like these? That's amazing!
And a Cool Glass of Milk to Top It Off 10 of 10At one of the tasty lunches with the group, I spotted this neat idea: chamomile-infused milk with ice cubes made of tea, so that the flavor changes slightly as you sip. A way to class up the typical glass of, say, chocolate milk (which, um, I still love). Thanks to CA Milk for the fresh idea!
Have you been inspired to try your hand at a tasty, dairy-filled dessert? Try these bite-sized hand pies for your next holiday party and you’ll be a whole lot cooler than the guy with the cupcakes.
Orchard Hand Pies
Makes 8 pies
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large Bosc pear, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon Real California butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup crumbled Real California blue cheese
1/2 cup grated Real California Cheddar cheese
All-Butter Pie Dough (recipe below) or 2 (15-ounce) packages ready-made pie crusts
Heat oven to 375°F. Combine apples, pears, 3 tablespoons sugar, pecans, cornstarch, butter, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, lemon zest and vanilla in a medium bowl; toss well. In a separate bowl, mix blue cheese and Cheddar cheese.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough 1/8-inch thick. Cut out eight 4 1/2-inch circles and eight 4-inch circles using round cutters or a plate, glass or lid of the right diameter. Lightly spray 8 wells of a muffin tin with cooking spray and line with 4 1/2-inch dough circles, leaving a 1/4-inch overhang.
Brush edges of dough with water. Sprinkle cheese mixture over bottom of dough, dividing it evenly. Mound fruit mixture on top of cheese, dividing it evenly. Place 4-inch dough circles on top, pressing edges with the tines of a fork to seal. Mix together 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Brush tops of pies with water and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. With the tines of a fork, poke a few holes in each pie to vent steam. Bake 35-40 minutes or until pies are golden brown and a knife inserted into the filling feels no resistance. Cool pies in tin about 10 minutes; remove from tin and cool on a rack. Serve warm or room temperature.
All-Butter Pie Dough
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) Real California unsalted butter, frozen
3/4 cup ice water
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar and salt. With a large-holed grater, grate butter into flour mixture; toss lightly with your fingers to coat butter with flour. Drizzle 1/2 cup water over flour and butter mixture; toss lightly with your hands or a spatula. If necessary, gradually add more water until clumps of dough adhere to each other when lightly squeezed. Transfer dough to work surface and form into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Dough may be store in refrigerator up to 24 hours or frozen. Bring to room temperature before using.