A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to fly cross-country to San Fransisco for the California Dairy Tour, hosted by the California Milk Advisory Board. I had a deliciously wonderful time tasting California-made dairy products and visiting local farms and artisan cheese makers.
California is the top dairy state in the nation, and they take it very seriously. With strict regulations to protect the air and water quality, dairy farmers and dairy producers walk the line to insure they provide superb dairy in a clean sustainable way.
Although I spent three days in a state of heavenly dairy gluttony, tasting freshly made ice cream, beer and cheese pairings, and dairy cocktails, the true highlight of my trip was meeting the farmers and cheese makers.
We visited fourth generation dairy farmer John Fiscalini of Fiscalini Farms, one of the most environmentally-minded (and friendly) dairy farmers around.
Several years ago, John made a huge investment putting in a waste digester that turns the waste from his farm and dairy into useable fuel.
John also reuses water and grows his own feed, unfathomably harvesting three crops per year in the California sunshine.
Did I mention he’s an award-winning cheese maker?
John hired his head cheese maker Mariano Gonzalaz over eleven years ago and has been winning international cheese competitions ever since.
Mariano ages the cheese 18 months before packaging, creating a rich robust flavor that can’t be replicated by the standard truck-aging process most cheese makers use today.
Fascalini Farmstead produces 4 types of cheese in an array of flavors: Cheddar, Bandage Wrapped Cheddar, San Joaquin Gold, and Lionza.
We also visited Karoun Dairies and met with cheese maker Rostom Baghdassarian, son of Anto Baghdassarian.
Anto, an Armenian immigrant, started his cheese making operation here in the states in a little shop in Hollywood over 20 years ago. Since then, he’s lived the American dream of building a business, and a better life for his family, by doing what he loves.
Karoun has expanded and now sells ethnic specialties nation-wide, including Mediterranean, Hispanic, Indian, Armenian, Russian and European dairy products. Some of their specialties are: Armenian Braided String Cheese, Basket Feta Cheese, Labne, and their new Grilling Cheese.
Although Karoun has grown immensely over the last two decades, they still take special care to hand-stretch their cheese and test every batch for perfection. It’s amazing what a little passion and hard work will get you. Karoun Dairies has also won various awards for their cheeses.
All marked with the seal for using only California milk.
Another dairy farmer that caught my attention was Johan Bartelink of Bartelink Dairy, a dutch immigrant from a family of ten children, who came to the US in 1957. Johan served in the military twice, but has spent most of his life as a dairy farmer, babying his cows to insure good quality milk.
Here’s a little clip of Johan…
Johan feels it’s essential for kids to understand where their food comes from, and spends time giving educational farms tours to children.
While teaching them proper care for cows and milking techniques, he shows them that making healthy choices means knowing how our food is produced.
Johan also explained the processes used to clean the cows and keep them healthy. Cows apparently need lots of pampering.
Did you know cows get pedicures more often than most of us?
Of all the remarkable stories he told of his life, trials, and work as a dairy farmer, the statement Johan made that still resonates in my mind is, “This country has been so good to us.”
Johan is deeply grateful for the opportunities he found and the life he made here in the United States. He does not take his chance at “the pursuit of happiness” lightly. After listening to his stories, I had to reflect on how easily we forget how blessed we are.
Johan summed up what I saw in all the farmers and cheese makers we met: honesty, perseverance, gratitude and passion. With this combination of attributes, they not only produce amazing dairy, they’ve set the bar for the dairy industry.