A Spicy Perspective

California Milk Tour

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.

The Meadowlark Drive-Thru Dairy in Pleasanton, CA.

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.

Tour of Alviso Park Adobe that later Became Meadowlark Dairy.

Ancient Mortar and Pestle Collection at Alviso Park.

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.

California Beer and Cheese Pairing with Chef Andrew Wild.

 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.

The Waste Digester.

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.

Braided Armenian String Cheese, hand-twisted and knotted.

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.

Karoun Basket Feta Cheese.

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.

Me learning to milk a fake cow.

Johan also explained the processes used to clean the cows and keep them healthy. Cows apparently need lots of pampering.

Modern Day Milking.

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.

California cows at feeding time.

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.

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26 comments on “California Milk Tour”

  1. Cool! I love that picture of you milking a cow – It kind of makes me want to have a big fake cow in my yard.

  2. Congrats Sommer! What a fun tour this looks like. I especially like your picture of the Braided Armenian String Cheese, very cool.

  3. Wow, I’m just looking at that cheese photos…amazing!! Glad you had fun!

  4. oh dairy is so yummy, milk, ice cream, cheese. Good, good all good! looks like you had a great time!

  5. Oh what a marvelous education and a fun trip. I love good cheese and Yogurt. Wonder if I can find these brands in Oklahoma.

  6. How fun Sommer!! thank you for sharing you trip with us. I spotted you and Bren in a picture on the trip, looks like y’all had a blast!

  7. How fun! Ohhh the cheeeeeese! I love cheese and am jealous of the cheese and beer pairing you got to partake in. And the yogurt too! What an educational, cool and delicious trip! Thanks for sharing….happy cows come from California, right? :)

  8. I am so glad that you enjoyed your trip to CA! Fiscalinis are just up the road from us, great friends and fantastic cheese! :) I’m going to have to check out Karoun! Have not heard of them and always love trying new Real CA products!

  9. Oh…What a gorgeous post, Sommer! It seems like you had a wonderful time :) Lovely clicks!

    Hugs <3

  10. how awesome! I would have loved to do something like that! You go girl

  11. The photo of you milking the cow has me grinning from ear to ear! I don’t think I look nearly as cute as you when I have to do it for the occasional bum calf! Looks like a great experience. I’ve always been fascinated with making cheese.

  12. Great pictures, Sommer! I love Fiscalini cheese. My dad’s in the wine industry and we do a wine-cheese swap with them every December. It’s one of the best days of the year! :)

  13. Beautiful blog, Sommer! It is a pleasure to relive the trip. We had a great time.

  14. Totally Cool! I live right near Pleasanton and I never knew about this. The tour seems so like a neto thing to do!

  15. Wow…what an amazing opportunity!! All that learning about cheese and California milk…how fun!

  16. Karoun! Yes! They’re fellow Armenians. Those mama cows look so sweet. What a fun tour!

  17. How fun! I bet you had a blast :)

  18. This looks so fun. You never really have to talk me into eating cheese!

  19. What an amazing tour! I am salivating over all of that dreamy cheese right now {ggodness}. Love the photo of you milking the cow!! :D xoxo

  20. I absolutely love going to farms. Seeing the process from beginning to end always fascinates me! And that CHEESE … swoon!

  21. Looks like alot of fun!

  22. thank you for sharing these beautiful and delicious experience with us; the photos are amazing i feel like i’m really there :-)

  23. What an amazing experience! Seriously Scrummy!!! Lovely to hear about it! I’m a big fan of WHOLE milk….I finally realized it’s not actually THAT much more fattening than the bog standard semi-skim milk, and it has a lot more nutrients and vitamins and digests easier! We even have a raw milk farm down the road…but that’s a blog for another day….:)

  24. Oh, I was smiling from ear to ear. What a wonderful experience. I would really enjoyed this too. Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

    Wow, wow, and wow again.


  25. What a wonderful and priceless experience. Of course, you’ve got some gorgeous cheese there.