A big thank you to the American Dairy Association Mideast for sponsoring my Ohio Dairy Adventure. All thoughts & opinions expressed below are my own.
I have to say that one of the most rewarding perks of my blogging career so far (other than being able to pay the bills) is having the opportunity to travel, learn, and meet some pretty amazing food bloggers and people in the food industry along the way. I was afforded another one of these amazing travel experiences the week before last when I took a road trip to Cleveland, Ohio as part of the Ohio Dairy Adventure. Okay, I know what you all may be thinking right about now- just what is an Ohio Dairy Adventure? ;) Let me enlighten you all...
It started with a cheese and wine pairing at the House of Blues that was followed by a day spent exploring two local dairy farms (there was also some cheese thrown in between the two farms), then an amazing dinner in a NFL stadium, followed by a morning of learning about the American Dairy Association Mideast's initiatives in Cleveland's public schools, and the whole trip ended with even more cheese- but ooey, gooey melted cheese that time around. Notice a theme here? (Psssstttt... cheese!)
But we all know that we wouldn't have all the cheese without the dairy, right? And where does the dairy (aka, milk) come from? Cows, of course! So, it only seems fitting to start there with the story of my recent Ohio Dairy Adventure experience...
The Dairy Farms...
Ohio's Amish country that is just outside of Cleveland is dotted with local, family owned dairy farms, and it has been that way for generation after generation. Our first stop on the Ohio Dairy Adventure was a visit to Richman Farms near Lodi, Ohio. And yep, that is the sunrise you see above, folks. The sunrise. (Okay, okay. I am not usually up before the sun rises!)
The Indoe family has owned and operated Richman Farms for five generations now. Their dairy farm is considered small with just 80 head of dairy cattle. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Mt. Crawford Creamery in Virginia that my family and I had visited earlier this summer.
The Indoe family makes it a point to keep their dairy cows as comfortable as possible. The milking parlor is equipped with heated rubber flooring. The cows are given a special feed that is blended on site at the farm. No detail is left unattended. And why, you may ask? Because the more comfortable and happy the dairy cow, the more milk she produces! :)
The next stop on our Ohio Dairy Adventure was a visit to Andreas Dairy in Sugar Creek, Ohio. Andreas Dairy gave us a glimpse into what a larger scale dairy farm looks like with its 1300 head of Holstein dairy cows. (Yep, I said 1300!)
I have to admit that I already had some preconceived notions of my own about Andreas Dairy when I heard how large their dairy farm is. I was expecting something a little less personal and more heavily mechanized than what we had experienced at Richman Farms. But I was pleasantly surprised. A larger scale dairy operation doesn't necessarily equate to a colder, less involved approach or staff. In fact, I saw just as much if not more personal detail and involvement at Andreas as I have witnessed at smaller dairy farms.
The calves are kept separate on a different part of the farm and arrive there shortly after birth. And there is good reason for that. Some of the other adult dairy cows do not always take too kindly to the new arrivals, and separation from the rest of the herd helps keep diseases and illnesses under control in the vulnerable and susceptible calves. On both dairy farms that we visited, the cows are only given medications or antibiotics when they are actually sick. And even then their milk is kept separate and does not go into what they sell out to distributors and local cheese makers.
|Photo courtesy of the ADA Mideast.|
We were informed that most of the calves are trained to drink their milk from a bucket. The milk is delivered to the calves after the morning milking has taken place each day. But since we were special guests of the farm, both the calves and us food bloggers enjoyed a special treat during our visit to Andreas Dairy- we got to bottle feed the calves! :)
In between our visits to the two dairy farms, we made a pit stop at Pearl Valley Cheese. Because cheese! We toured the facility where the Stalder family has been making Swiss and Colby varieties for four generations now. Local dairy farms in the area deliver fresh milk to Pearl Valley daily, and they only accept milk from dairies whose cattle are free of artificial growth hormones.
Though the technology has changed over the years, the quality and attention to detail has not changed in 80 years. And that was evident when we were invited to try freshly aged Swiss cheese straight from the pallet...
Can we say amazing? After our tour of the cheese making facility, we were turned loose in Pearl Valley's store to fill our baskets with as much cheese as we could stuff into our coolers. I might have squealed just a little with excitement when I saw the fresh cheese curds in one of the coolers. Cheese curds are hard to come by where I live, and you all may remember that I have been a tad bit obsessed with them since partaking in that poutine bar at the Food & Wine Conference this past summer. ;)
Okay, so we didn't just gorge ourselves on cheese the entire time we were in Cleveland and Ohio Amish Country. (Although we did eat our fair share of cheesy goodness during this trip.) We enjoyed a traditional Amish meal at Erb's Catering during our dairy farm outing. This is classic comfort food, folks. Chicken, pot roast, creamy noodles, homemade mashed potatoes, and don't get me started on the Amish bread.
Our final dinner during our Ohio Dairy Adventure took a little less of a conventional approach. We dined in a suite at the Cleveland Browns stadium alongside Joe Thomas, an offensive lineman for the Browns. You know, no biggie... ;)
|Photo courtesy of the ADA Mideast.|
Before enjoying a full dinner menu inspired by local chefs (like- ahem- Michael Symon), we were all allowed on the field of the Cleveland Browns Stadium. A once in a lifetime event like that definitely calls for a selfie stick groupie, right?
And for our final meal in Cleveland, we ended our Ohio Dairy Adventure the same that we had started... with cheese. Lots and lots of ooey, gooey cheese at Melt Bar & Grilled...
Melt Bar & Grilled has been serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and 150+ craft beers in bottle, can, and draft to Clevelanders since owner Matt Fish opened its doors in 2006. We were treated to array of some of Melt's most popular appetizers and sandwiches to sample and enjoy.
We also tried valiantly to take on the Melt Challenge. This platter of ooey, gooey cheesiness was once featured on the Travel Channel's Man vs Food. Adam Richman rose to the challenge, but did 11 food bloggers collectively have what it takes? Click on over here to my Instagram feed to see how we fared with the Challenge... ;)
Getting Dairy Educated...
|Photo courtesy of the ADA Mideast.|
Our Ohio Dairy Adventure was more than just eating cheese and feeding baby calves. We also learned a great deal about the Ohio's dairy industry, how dairy fits into our daily nutrition, and the American Dairy Association Mideast's initiatives to provide better nutrition in the public schools, to get kiddos to become more active and healthier, and to encourage national restaurant chains to offer more healthier options in their kids' meal menus. Part of that dairy learning experience was spending our last morning in Cleveland having breakfast with students at Clara E. Westropp School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. The school and its principal, Francie Watson have been working closely with the ADA Mideast to make sure that every student is afforded the option to have a free breakfast and lunch each day of the school year.
Having the ADA Mideast's Nutrition Affairs Director along for the ride for our entire Ohio Dairy Adventure provided us with many learning opportunities to talk about dairy, its health benefits, and some of the common nutrition misconceptions surrounding milk and dairy. Of particular interest to me was how lactose within milk is processed by the body, or in some cases like mine not processed well by the body. (Ugh, lactose intolerance...) I was able to talk at length with Karen about this. I learned why drinking milk straight will bother me, but eating cheese didn't affect me much- most of the lactose in the milk is processed out during the cheese making process! :) Who knew?
This was a truly extraordin-dairy adventure, and I sincerely appreciate that the American Dairy Association Mideast extended this invitation to me. If you ever have a chance to visit Cleveland or Ohio Amish country, do it, folks. I promise you wont regret it.
Have you visited Cleveland or Ohio Amish country before?
What is on your must-do list for the area?
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