A Story About Milk

Humans have a complex history with milk.

We arrive on earth totally dependent on it, a bottle of milk the only salve for our frantic cries. As we grow, our mothers fill our glasses with the stuff, exhorting us to drink our fill to strengthen our bones. Before long, though, milk is relegated to sharing a bunk with Lucky Charms or Trix, and by our teenage years we're doing the gallon challenge because our buddy Chad talked us into it. 

And then we start drinking coffee. For many of us, our inaugural cups were so un-tasty we dumped three cows' worth of cream into it. Some of us were #blessed with a positive introduction to black coffee -- but most of us arrived in the black-coffee-drinking promised land after a long sojourn of slugging sixteen-ounce coffee milkshakes. At CREMA, we honor and respect this journey from lattes to lungo espressos. 

Though we find coffee to be at its dynamic, tongue-bursting best when consumed black and without its milky companions, we've gotta admit: milky drinks are legit awesome, too. A creamy macchiato can lift an already-tasty espresso to new heights. Cortados -- something about that perfect amount of milk -- are always surprisingly sweet. And cappuccinos are like coffee's version of comfort food. Made well and with great milk, milk-based coffee drinks can be dreamy.

But if you're to get your hands on one of those dreamy, creamy coffee drinks, you've got to get your hands a little dirty first. A six-tiered tulip poured with velvety milk sure looks sexy -- but milking a cow sure ain't. So we visited G & G Family Dairy -- and the cows from whence our milk comes -- in Orlinda, Tennessee, to see just how much mooing and shaking goes into a glass of ice cold milk.

   

This is Randy Groves. Randy and the Groves clan have been at this for a while -- Randy's great-grandfather, Claude, started the family dairy business over a century ago. Carrying the four-generation lineage of dairy farming, Randy handles all the day-to-day operations of the farm.

The state of Tennessee requires Randy to use this brain-addling circular chart during the pasteurization process. Here, Randy plots the time and temperature of milk in the pasteurization vat. The state's milk processing requirements are understandably strict: these charts are kept as proof that G & G did everything the right way.

Randy and his crew pasteurize their milk at a low temperature for a long time (150 degrees for 30 minutes). This patient pasteurization process allows the milk's healthy bacteria, proteins, and enzymes to remain. Other dairies favor the high-temperature-short-time method, which is certainly a faster way to produce a bunch of milk, but can also scald away the milk's inherent goodness and enzymes. (That is not a wall-mounted record player spinning a Neutral Milk Hotel record, no matter how much we wanted it to be.)

Quick and effective cooling is paramount to the quality of milk. After pasteurization, milk must be rapidly cooled (to 35 degrees) to prevent any further micro-organism growth. These giant tanks work like cooling tubs for the milk -- the temperature remains steady, and milk is stored here until further processing. 

This, as you can see, is not a cow. 

These stalls were empty on our visit -- we didn't rise-and-shine early enough to witness the milking -- but each morning, this place is teeming with black-and-white Holsteins eager to be a part of a future cappuccino.

All his life, Randy has known 4 a.m. alarm clocks and pre-dawn milkings. His days are steady with milking, feeding, and working the fields. We climbed this hill in search of his bovine companions.

Orlinda is an hour's drive from CREMA, and just a five-minute jaunt to the Kentucky border. It was a perfect day for a drive. (Also, the cows had apparently slurped just about all this water.)

We use G & G Family Dairy because they are enthusiastic about milk. They wake up every day, show up, and care for their cows. Randy and his family employ first-class technology, refrain from using any additives, and their work is meticulous. And really, the milk just tastes crazy good.   

Also the cows. We chose G & G Dairy for the cow-cuteness, which cannot be measured even with one of those circular charty-thingies.

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As a coffee shop, we use a lot of milk. And we try to treat each drop of it with as much love as we give our own coffee. Because we know it came from the early-morning, sleeves-rolled-up work of Randy, someone whose very sense of family and self is worn into those pastures, gallons and gallons of hard work and family history bottled up and sent to our shop. 

So yeah, we love milky drinks. They taste great -- especially once you know where that sweet milk comes from.