One of the most positive developments to result from the raised standards of the specialty coffee world’s “third wave” is an emphasis on principles like traceability and sustainability. In most cases, terms like these are used in direct connection with the cultivation, harvesting, and sourcing practices of the coffee itself. These are ideals we wholeheartedly support and practice with the coffees we source, roast, and serve.
When we decided in early 2018 that we were ready to open a café of our own to highlight and showcase some of what we had already been doing with coffee on the roasting side (at that point for nearly two years), it quickly occurred to us that the same care and attention to traceability, sustainability, and the like ought to be given to the other products we offer alongside our coffees. The first and most obvious item would be the milk used in the creation of our beverages — both dairy and non-dairy milks. With the volume of these we go through every week, we knew this would be an area of high impact.
For those who prefer or need non-dairy milk alternatives, we have chosen a premium oat milk from Minor Figures and a top-shelf macadamia milk from Milkadamia. These two products have been wildly popular amongst our customer base, and for that we are thankful. We’re keenly aware of the strong opinions of some folks that question the wisdom of human consumption of milk from cows — and that’s certainly a worthy discussion in which to engage at another time. With that having been said, dairy milk is still the most popular choice for our customer base (and likely for most cafés’ customer bases).
In many (if not the majority) of the drinks we serve, there is more milk by volume than coffee in the cup! It stands to reason, then, that this milk ought to be of commensurate quality to the coffee (into which we pour our hearts and souls). Therefore, we were not willing to take the thrifty way out on the milk / half-and-half we offer. With this in mind, we conducted a search for the best milk based on three main factors:
- Quality — This includes the taste of the milk, the creaminess and protein levels, and the texture that results in the steaming process for espresso beverages.
- Humane Treatment of Animals — Just as important as quality, and happy cows produce better milk anyway! This area is, perhaps, the most important in our minds after seeing some of the treatment of and conditions in which most cows in massive dairy operations exist.
- Locality — One of our passions is supporting fellow small, local, family-owned businesses. If there is a local option available for a given product / service, we want to use it if at all possible.
With these three main areas considered — along with quite a number of other considerations within each category — we settled on Homestead Creamery as the best choice for us in our dairy products. Homestead Creamery is a small operation based out of Burnt Chimney, Virginia — just a short drive south of Roanoke. Currently, four families operate the dairy farms that make up Homestead’s cooperative. Their farmers believe that quality dairy products begin with the quality of life of their cows. Focusing on cow comfort and health by taking measures such as providing clean, dry bedding, a constant supply of fresh water and feed grown on their own farms, and fans / sprinklers to help keep the cows comfortable are just a few of the ways their animals are happier and healthier than the big “factory” dairies. After each milking, the cows get to roam the beautiful and lush pastures for exercise, grazing, and lounging.
Truly, the proof is in the drinking. We conducted blind taste tests putting Homestead’s whole milk alongside other premium, small-batch dairies as well as national brand and store brand milks. The results were astounding and unanimous. Homestead’s whole milk, half-and-half, butter, and ice cream are simply on a level of their own in terms of flavor and texture; and, what a bonus to feel good about supporting local families who work hard and take extra measures to ensure the comfort and care of their animals.
With all that said, Homestead sells premium products at a premium price. Those of you in Virginia who have seen their jugs in local grocery stores know that well. This means we pay significantly more for our milk, half-and-half, butter, and ice cream than many other similar businesses. Obviously, if profit margins were our main consideration, we wouldn’t be serving Homestead’s products. Should our drink prices be higher than they are with this in mind? Probably. Would the local market bear it? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, it is important to us that our customers know they are drinking something truly special — in terms of both the coffee and the milk.
Our founding family, the O’Rourkes, recently took the relatively short drive out west to visit two of the farms that make up the Homestead Creamery cooperative. We have made trips to some of the farms where our coffees are grown, and why shouldn’t we take the same interest and care in meeting the beautiful cows who make our milk and the lovely pastures in which they graze?
What we saw first-hand and learned in spending a few hours with of of Homestead’s founding farmers, Donnie Montgomery, served to reinforce what we already knew about the honorable treatment of the Creamery’s cows. Donnie’s grandparents purchased the original farm in the late 1800s, and now his adult children are the fourth generation to operate a dairy farm on the same land.
Additionally, the commitment to quality is evident at every turn. Donnie was a wonderful host in taking valuable time out to show us around and explain in detail what they do and why they do it. Little touches like padding on the milking floors to keep the cows’ feet comfortable, those fans and sprinklers to keep them cool, and even brushes for back scratches on demand! The lush green pastures, which the cows have access to at all times, are picturesque.
There is much more we could say about our respect and admiration for Homestead Creamery, but we’ll allow the delicious and nutritious milk being poured by our baristas from those classic glass jugs do the talking for now. We hope you will share in at least some measure of similar appreciation for all the hard work and sacrifice that goes into giving you that sweet and creamy texture in your latte, cappuccino, affogato, or black coffee with half-and-half.
As always, we thank you for your support of our small, family business as we seek to throw our support behind other small, family businesses like Homestead Creamery!