Most milk has to travel hundreds of miles to arrive at a processing facility to be transformed into yogurt. At Country View Dairy, a Bon Appétit Farm to Fork partner, milk travels less than 200 feet from cow to yogurt cup.
Farmstead yogurt production is increasingly rare these days, so when I heard that our chefs at Cornell College purchase their fresh and frozen yogurt, I jumped at the chance to see the process and meet farmers David and Carolee Rapson.
Walking into the creamery, I was greeted by the unmistakeably sweet smell of fresh milk. The Rapson family was about to start the yogurt making process for the day — and I soon learned that it’s a long, multi-step process.
It all starts in the milking parlor, where the Rapson’s five sons milk their herd of 150 Holsteins. Then the milk is pumped directly into the creamery. Next, the cream separator goes to work, creating cream and skim milk. Country View Dairy’s yogurt is 1 percent fat, so a small amount of cream is added back to the milk to create this profile. Next comes pasteurization, followed by mixing in various fruit flavors, and then cupping.
Lastly, the yogurt is allowed to “set up” in the incubation room. This room, set at over 100 degrees, is where all the magic happens. The yogurt’s live active bacterial cultures love this warmth and thrive and multiply. (On a 17 degree Iowa morning, I was also happy to spend some time in the incubation room!)
When I tasted a sample of the natural vanilla bean yogurt, I was sure the Rapsons had achieved its perfection it over years and years of practice. However, David explained that while they are well-seasoned dairy farmers, they are newcomers to the farmstead yogurt world. Two years ago, they built the creamery from the ground up after realizing they could fill an important niche as the only yogurt producers in northeast Iowa. He said that he is only familiar with two other farms in the Midwest making yogurt this way. Fun fact: one of those farms is Windcrest Dairy, another Bon Appétit Farm to Fork partner, which provides yogurt to Washington University in St. Louis.
Bob Howard, Country View Dairy’s Marketing Director, explained to me that these small farmstead operations have to stick together in such a challenging industry as dairy. Country View Dairy, Windcrest, and another farm in Wisconsin frequently share ideas and split orders of all-natural fruit mixes for their yogurt. According to Bob, each flavor is only available in 5-ton increments, which is too much for one operation to utilize alone.
At Bon Appétit, we are enthusaistic supporters of pioneers like Country View Dairy who keep production local and help build more resilient regional food systems. And this enthusiasm cannot be contained — in addition to Cornell College, our Twin Cities area chefs at Medtronic, Target, Carleton College, and St. Olaf College recently began to feature Country View Dairy yogurt in their cafés.