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Got (Good) Milk? Ask The Dairy Evangelist

By John Burnett | NPR

An Ohio dairyman is on a crusade to put cows back on pastures and bring the flavor back to milk.

Warren Taylor owns and runs Snowville Creamery, and he's trying to make milk the way it was made 40 years ago, when, he insists, it tasted better.

A lean, hyperactive 58-year-old dairy engineer, Taylor aspires to be "the Che Guevara of the American dairy industry." He bounds from place to place, pouring forth his philosophy of how he plans to transform the industry, starting here at his milk plant in Pomeroy, Ohio.

"I built Snowville Creamery to prove to the American dairy industry that the reason our children have had a 30-year continuous decline in their consumption of milk is not entirely Coke and Pepsi's fault, but because the dairy industry has been delivering a continuously declining quality of milk, in terms of its freshness and taste," Taylor says.

First, most of his milk is sold 48 hours out of the cow, and he delivers no farther than an eight-hour distance from the dairy.

Second, his milk is not homogenized; the cream rises to the top, and you have to shake it up before pouring.

Third, his milk is pasteurized at a lower temperature — 165 degrees. The industry standard is 175 degrees, which Taylor believes diminishes taste. Today, the popular "ultrahigh temperature" or "ultrapasteurized" milk is sterilized at 280 degrees, a process that trades flavor for long-distance marketing and long shelf life.

Most important, Taylor says, his milk comes from cows that dine on grass or hay.

John Burnett/NPR

Warren Taylor owns Snowville Creamery, in Pomeroy, Ohio. He gets his milk from 235 brown Jersey cows that graze on a farm owned by his neighbor.

"This is in stark contrast to the vast majority of milk in America which is made from cows confined in barns, partly so they can be milked three times a day, and are fed a diet that is predominantly corn and soybeans. Those cows produce about twice as much milk a day as the cows here in a pasture-grazing situation," Taylor says.

He gets his milk from 235 brown Jersey cows that graze on a farm owned by his neighbor, Bill Dix. Half of Dix's milk goes to Snowville Creamery, which is housed in an industrial-looking metal building right on the premises of his farm.

A Drop In The Bucket?

Taylor is by no means the only dairyman in America doing it this way. The editor of Graze magazine estimates that 5 percent of producers graze their cattle on grass. But like the rest of American agriculture, the dairy business is moving toward fewer and larger farms and is dominated by a handful of giants. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department is currently investigating whether the influence of the huge co-op Dairy Farmers of America and the huge processor Dean Foods violates antitrust laws.

It's also true that most dairies are interested in one thing: producing as much milk as cheaply as possible — especially now that low milk prices are driving some dairymen into bankruptcy. Generally, milk comes from confined animal feeding operations, where large herds live in feedlots and are milked several times a day.

"You can put 'em out and let 'em eat grass and let 'em do whatever, and produce half what they're doing. But where are you gonna put 2,600 cows on one place? How many acres do you have to have, to have 2,600 cows? And how do you keep up with that?" asks John Woelber, a mega-dairyman in Belen, N.M.

The dairy industry is not really paying attention to Taylor's one-man insurgency — at least not yet. Chris Galen, spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, rejects the idea that his members compromise taste for quantity.

"Of course, flavor is in the eye, or at least the tongue, of the beholder, and so if people detect a difference in taste, I would not tell them they're not detecting it. We all know the placebo effect is quite powerful. If you're paying $6, $7 or $8 a gallon for milk versus $3, you might think it tastes better simply because it costs more," Galen says.

A Dairy Evangelist

Is Snowville Creamery a quaint creation of what concrete-stressed urbanites think a country dairy should look like? Or is it a true harbinger of what's possible?

And is Taylor a prophet? Or is he, in Galen's words, a "clever marketer?"

"There's only one way I can compete with milk that cheap, and that's to make milk that is clearly different and better," Taylor says.

To test his boast, Taylor was followed to the Whole Foods Market on P Street in Washington, D.C., where the manic milkman was giving samples in front of the dairy case. His milk sells for $3 a half-gallon.

A woman in a down jacket picking up some groceries after work accepts a cup of his skim milk.

"Oh, that's good!" she says before asking where she can find it.

Since beginning operations two years ago, Snowville Creamery has been expanding production about 5 to 10 percent month over month. Now with 80 outlets, mostly in Ohio, Taylor says it finally became profitable this month. Washington, D.C., is their newest and farthest market.

A middle-aged woman pushes her cart up to the Snowville sample table and takes a cup of whole milk.

"Oh, that's so good," she says with gusto. "My mom used to get this stuff from a farm near us when I was growing up. It's like that."

Taylor smiles knowingly.

"Oh, well," he says. "I'm a dairy evangelist."


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