Lately, I've been obsessed with making ice cream. I scored an ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid and the freezer's been full of sweet stuff ever since.
That's why I jumped at the chance to go on a dairy tour with a bunch of ice cream pros, a trip arranged by Barry Bettinger, the man behind Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream. Barry and his crew not only make incredible product sold in supermarkets around Seattle—my favorite flavors are Mukilteo Mudd and French Lavender—he provides neutral ice cream base which local shops doll up and sell to adoring fans. He's the reason there has been a boutique ice cream revolution in Seattle. Vive la revolution!
A handful of Barry's fans/customers trekked out to Werkhoven Dairy Farm in Monroe, an hour's drive from Seattle. Folks from Peak's Frozen Custard, Molly Moon's, and the fantastic FareStart were there along with the chef and the pastry chef from Tulalip Casino.
The first thing I noticed when we arrived on a cool morning? It didn't smell nearly as ripe as I expected. Might have been different if it was blazing hot. Cows like cool weather, by the way.
This farm has about 1,000 head, which is considered fairly small. Lactating cows are milked nearly around the clock and the milk is dispatched to plants around Western Washington to be pasteurized.
We saw the tanks where the milk is cooled—it comes out of the cow at 101 degrees and is quickly cooled to inhibit the growth of bacteria. We peered into the milking parlor where the Holsteins are attached to the machines that exact the moo juice. As they were herded back their stalls for a meal, a few of the cows stopped and eyeballed our group. "They're very social animals, very curious," said Jim Werkhoven, owner of the family farm and also CEO of the state's biggest dairy cooperative, Darigold.
It was curiosity that prompted this tour, the hunger to learn about where the milk comes from and the practices used at the farm. People seemed to take comfort in knowing the feed used was grown nearby and that unlike sweet corn, feed corn requires very little chemicals. "Milk is milk," Werkhoven said. "It makes a whole lot more sense to drink locally produced milk than organic milk that's trucked in from across the country."
We also learned that Holsteins (which make up most of this country's dairy stock) give a whole lot of milk, but Guernsey's milk is much creamier. Is this why European butter is better?
I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to a dairy farm and before I headed back to the city, I stopped at Snoqualmie's ice cream shop to take the end product. I ordered a scoop of Tennessee Whiskey (made with Jack Daniels). Somehow, it tasted even better now that I had a new appreciation for the source.
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been apprenticing in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She recently began interviewing cooks for Seattle Weekly's food blog, Voracious.