9Kitchen chats to family dairy farmer Emma Elliot about what you can expect from single source milk - yes it's a thing, and its winning plenty of awards
Single source milk. It's a bit like a step back in time, but you could pretty much say it's the way milk is supposed to be.
"It means that all the milk we sell is only produced on our family farm," says Emma Elliot of Little Big Dairy Co. in Dubbo, NSW, explaining the expression in its simplest terms. "We have complete traceability back to the very cow that produced the milk that’s in the bottles and it also means we can guarantee the integrity of the product. We know all of our cows by name, we hand reared them, and we have such an intimate relationship with them, and that means we know the quality, we know that they're healthy and we know that they're happy." That's a big call for a herd of 800 head.
But for Elliot and her siblings - all eighth generation dairy farmers from the Chesworth family - it's this close relationship to the milking herd that is so important. Knowing, beyond a doubt, that that the cows are happy.
A healthy herd
It sounds so simple, but there's actually a lot more than just fresh air and good clean grass that play into a herd's well-being. When we think of a nice cold glass of sweet milk, most of us conjure up a lovely image of a cow being hand-milked in a rustic barn with fresh straw beneath its feet. A happy, peaceful cow.
We don't think of big factories, mass milking and a little dash from thousands of cows all around the countryside adding a drop to our glass. But the truth is that the milk we generally have access to in shops and supermarkets is a mass mixture of milk from all over, with an untold number of cows playing into the bottle. This in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing - it allows for a certain consistency and supply across the board - but it does rob us of transparency and reduces the individual nuances that traditionally have been part of enjoying a glass of milk.
"[Single source] is different from other milk because it is both produced on our farm and bottled on our farm," says Elliot. The focus on the quality and the fact that Little Big Dairy purchase the raw product from their own farm means that they can pay a fair price for that happy, healthy milk.
At what cost
"We purchase the milk at a supremely premium price," says Elliot, advising that most dairy farmers can be held to ransom by an industry price war that drives the price per litre ever downwards regardless of production costs. "We buy at a rate that is sustainable to the farm so that they are able to continue farming in an ethical way and improving and investing in the farm and its technology."
It's being able to invest in better methods that helps to keep the health standards of the herd so high.
"It's in everything from the way we feed our cows to the high-tech state-of-the-art equipment for milking," says Elliot. "It allows us to maintain the intimacy that we have on a large scale."
Flavour always wins
And apparently all this cow comfort plays out in the flavour of the milk, if the Little Big Dairy's awards are anything to go off.
Last week it was announced that Little Big Dairy took out the 2017 Australian Grand Dairy Awards gong for best specialty white dairy drink for their less cream milk (find the full list of award winners here).
"It's because it's so fresh. It's bottled on the day it's produced, which is basically unheard of. And because the cows are so healthy and are eating fresh grass and have a balanced diet and no worries. If you have a very healthy animal they’ll have high quality milk." Again it comes down to transparency and traceability, with LBD's milk being so good that there is nothing added to it.
"Next time you're at the supermarket take a look at the ingredients on the skim and light milk, most of them have things added that shouldn’t be there, like powders. Ours is just milk."
Exactly as you'd expect it to be.
Where to next
Where once single source milk was the only milk you could get, today it's a rare commodity that is turning heads, and Elliot says that unless consumers place pressure on suppliers for this kind of transparency it's a big investment to make without guarantee of return.
"It's about consumer awareness and putting pressure on bigger companies to provide that an authentic way," says Elliot. It can't just be another badge on a product. That doesn't mean anything unless farmers are getting more money in their pocket to do things they need to do."
Right now we can only really get Little Big Dairy's single source dairy from around a 200km radius of their Dubbo farm. But they're hoping that will change with increased interested and distribution capability. In the meantime, they're just happy to get an alternative idea out there. Especially one that tastes to damn good.
And if you happen to get your hands on some single source milk, Elliot has some handy serving suggestions; "Coffee is just about the best thing you can do with our milk. Baristas love it. Or just a cold glass of the milk on its own. Or cup of tea. Or a milkshake…”
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