On my culinary totem pole, dairy ranks right at the top. Any food group to which we owe ice cream, dulce de leche, and fondue deserves serious respect.

Ohio Dairy Adventure

See above? That’s Linda. Linda and I became well acquainted during my three-day Extraorin-DAIRY adventure with the American Dairy Association Mideast. Eight bloggers and myself joined the ADA in Ohio for an in-depth look at the processes that bring milk from the farm to our glass. Anyone who has ever eaten a particularly fudgy brownie or sticky peanut butter sandwich can appreciate the importance of this procedure.

Ohio Dairy Adventure

That’s our stellar blogging crew, looking good on our day of milking. These ladies are so talented, and it was fantastic interacting with each of them face to face. From left to right: Willow (Will Cook for Friends), Tanya (Lemons for Lulu), Jocelyn (Inside BruCrew Life), Lindsay (The Lean Green Bean), Karly (Buns in My Oven), Lisa (Garnish with Lemon), Aimee (Shugary Sweets), Christina (Dessert for Two), and some other blogger who likes plaid and striking sorority girl poses.

Before the trip, I was not well informed about dairy process; I was, however, highly confident in my ability to consume copious amounts of cheese which, to my delight, is how our trip began. We kicked off our adventure in style at Lakehouse Inn and Winery, a gorgeous winery and restaurant on the shores of Lake Erie. This was my first look at Lake E, and the big blue water did not disappoint.

Ohio Dairy Adventure

See the above? That is a fine spread of Ohio-made cheeses. Living in Wisconsin, I’m pretty spoiled by the sheer abundance of great local cheese, and this was one of the tastiest selections I’ve tried. Dear smoked aged cheddar: Marry me. We learned about wine and cheese pairings from Marianne Franz, Founder, American Wine School (Think only red wine can go with cheese? Try a bright, acidic white and prepare for true love!) We were also fortunate to pose questions to the wine maker himself. (Top right photo above: Notice a resemblance?)

After enjoying the end result (cheese), we headed out to the country at 6 a.m. the next morning to join Richman Farm for its morning milking. Richman Farm is owned and operated by the Indoe family, and it was a pleasure being able to ask questions to the Indoes themselves. I was blow away by the time and care that goes into every aspect of dairy farming. Richman Farm is home to 80 Holstein, Jersey, and Brown Swiss Cows, and the Indoe family knows each one by name. (This is where I met Linda, who so graciously let me milk her. I also got a bit too well acquainted with another cow. All I can say is, if the cow lifts her tail move. Hazards of farm living.) The Indoes also show many of their cows in competitions. This is one blue ribbon family, and the Indoes’ passion and pride for their work is inspiring.

Ohio Dairy Adventure

Interrupting Cow Milk Fact: One gallon of milk weighs 8.5 pounds, and a well-producing cow will yield about 85 pounds of milk a day.

Next, we headed to Pearl Valley Cheese, a four-generation family business that has been operating for more than 80 years.

Ohio Dairy Adventure

We went behind the scenes and saw the entire cheese-making process. See those enormous crates (below, left)? They are full of Swiss cheese, aging to perfection. The giant mechanical arms (below right)? That’s marble cheese coming to life. I even saw peppers being added to pepper jack, Ben’s favorite. Throughout the entire process, hardly a drop of milk is wasted. Even the water and whey that are not a part of the final cheese are used elsewhere.

Ohio Dairy Adventure

We stopped for lunch at an Amish family farm and were spoiled by hearty home cooking—we’re talking fried chicken, brisket, buttery pasta, buttery potatoes, buttery corn, and…do you see a theme here? I didn’t think I could eat another bite, until I met the five varieties of from-scratch pie. This was one of many moments throughout the trip when I envied the cows their four stomachs.

In a happy food daze, we headed Sugarcreek, Ohio, the home of Andreas Dairy Farm. In contrast to Richman Farm (which manages 80 cows), Andreas is a much larger operation. Dan and Lois Andreas and their son, Matt manage 1,200 cows, each of which is milked three times a day.  Fun facts: At Andreas Farm, it takes approximately seven minutes to milk a cow, the barns are cleaned three times per day, and four adorable baby cows are born each day. I had the pleasure to feed one of those cutie calves. This little lady (below left) is only one day old. As at Richman Farm, I was so impressed by the diligence of each aspect of dairy farming, which keeps the cows comfortable and healthy.

Ohio Dairy Adventure 

After our day of milking, we washed up for a VIP event: a Chef Michael Symon-inspired dinner at Cleveland Brown’s Stadium, where we met Browns tackle, Joe Thomas. Joe collaborates Fuel Up to Play 60, a program sponsored by the NFL and the National Dairy Council that encourages students make healthy choices.

Joe also happens to be from the same Milwaukee suburb as Ben, and we discovered that he and Ben competed against each other at  high school track meets, Ben in the 4x400m relay, Joe in the shot put. Basically, Joe and I are now BFF.*
OH Dairy Adventure - Browns tackle Joe Thomas and I - He's so big!

*Erin’s wishful thinking. Seriously though, Joe Thomas is such a warm, genuine guy, and I’m holding out that we’ll grab a beer together in Wisconsin one day.

In addition to meeting Joe, I had another mega life moment: Chef Michael Symon retweeted me. I might as well deactivate my Twitter account now; I’ve peaked. Yes, I am that extreme of a dork that I took a screen shot. Don’t judge. Or at least be gentle.

OH Dairy Adventure - Michael Symon Retweet - My life is complete

Our last morning in Ohio, we headed to a local school for breakfast. In addition to getting the scoop on the trendiest Halloween costumes from a group of second graders, I also learned about the school’s breakfast program. Each morning, the students receive milk, along with a balanced breakfast dish.  Without this program, many students would not eat breakfast at all, and many families do not serve milk at home. We also received a tour of the beautiful cafeteria, which received a recent makeover, thanks to Fuel Up to Play 60 and some elbow grease from the Cleveland Browns players.

We made a pit stop at the Westside Market, a Cleveland institution and food-lover’s paradise, where we each selected a cheese to sample. We enjoyed our cheeses at Crop Bistro, a cutting-edge Cleveland restaurant that’s housed in an old bank. Eating gourmet cheese in a bank vault? Check.

Ohio Dairy Adventure - West Side Market

We were also fortunate to have a registered dietician, Karen Bakies, along with us for the entire trip. Karen is a wealth of information, and it was a privilege to have her with us to answer questions. After our trip, I’m even more dedicated to my three servings of dairy a day.

photo-1

Thank you to the ADA for an incredible experience, and to all of you for reliving this Extraorin-DAIRY adventure with me!

Now, who wants a glass of milk?