Cream of the crop

The Cedar Summit Dairy is one one of many small dairies that have set up their operation with Pladot’s assistance. Remember receiving fresh milk in clear bottles in the morning from the milkman, delivered to your door? In a growing …

The Cedar Summit Dairy is one one of many small dairies that have set up their operation with Pladot’s assistance. Remember receiving fresh milk in clear bottles in the morning from the milkman, delivered to your door? In a growing number of U.S. communities, fresh local milk is no longer a matter of nostalgia – it’s the latest trend.

In addition, farm-fresh quality dairy products are increasingly in demand – flavored milks, fresh yogurts, gourmet cheese dips, and top-quality ice cream are being sold in gourmet shops and supermarkets.

But in order for dairy products to be fresh, they have to be local. And an Israeli company that is helping American farmers take advantage of this niche is Pladot, which manufactures a full-scale made-to-order mini-dairy processing system.

Developed on Kibbutz Ein Harod in the Jezreel Valley, Pladot provides would-be dairy merchants with a complete manufacturing facility, engineering know-how, and even recipes, for American entrepreneurs who dream of running their own dairy. Most of these businessmen are dairy farmers who decide that instead of selling their milk to big companies, they want to manufacture their own dairy products.

Not only does the Israeli company sell the processing equipment, tailored to the needs of each customer, it also provides a range of services from site selection, planning of the plant, to help with marketing. The equipment is sold duty-free in the U.S. with the cost of a system ranging from $200,000-$400,000.

“The package also includes a week of training in Israel, and visits to successful mini dairies,” said Pladot’s Dr. Gad Cohen, a graduate of Tel Aviv University’s Medical School, who together with his wife, Ofra, tailor plans to suit each individual farmer.

“One Wisconsin farmer is so excited about the mini dairy, he got a plane ticket to visit this month,” said Ofra Cohen, general manager of Transmark Corp., which handles Pladot’s operations in the U.S. The young farmer had been selling the milk from his cows to a large cheese processor, and not making much profit, and decided he wanted to sell premium milk in bottles.

“Wisconsin is encouraging small farmers to set up mini-dairies and diversify their dairy products,” said Cohen, explaining why that particular state is the target market for Pladot.

“I did not have a clue beforehand about how to go about processing milk,” said Dave Bruer of Homestead Dairy in Burnt Chimney, Virginia, where price of milk has been flat for 25 years. Bruer praises the Pladot option for making value-adding possible for farmers who don’t have a lot of time to learn all about processing and marketing. The Cohens advised him on marketing strategy, suppliers, containers, a labeling machine, and the 50-mile marketing radius, he decided to target.

Picking up on the nostalgia associated with milk in a glass bottle, Homestead also decided to use old delivery vans. The dairy produces chocolate, strawberry, and buttermilk in bottles, flavored yogurts, dairy dips (including jalapeno, bacon and chives, hoseradish and ranch, and even short-aged cheese (Bel Paese).

“Shenville Creamery and Garden Market in Timberville, Virginia is a showcase success,” says Cohen. “They have a viewing gallery so that tourists can see how dairy processing is done.” The owners, Ida and Leon Heatwole, came to Israel for training in 2000. “Now they produce six flavors of milk, eggnog, half and half, exotic dips, yogurts, ice cream, cottage cheese – anything you can think of,” says Cohen

Pladot also puts their money where their mouths are, continually expanding and developing their system in their dairy on the kibbutz and producing their own brands of products.

“We got into the business ourselves about fifteen years ago because we had an oversupply of milk, which we were not allowed to sell outside of the kibbutz,” says Hillel Prag, Pladot Marketing Manager. “We began making yogurts and cheese.”

The kibbutz, located at the foot of the Gilboa Mountains, amidst plantations of dates and pecans, also had a metal business, and engineering know-how to manufacture the processing equipment.

“Our dairy business became a success, and we began making mini dairies for other kibbutzim,” explains Prag. The company has sold over 348 systems worldwide, including dairies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Freshness and unique flavor can only be attained through small batch processing, the edge that only mini dairies have, says Prag. “We sell a whole mentality,” he added. “The mini-dairy and its products represent a style of life.”

Take a trip up the winding mountain road to the Stafford Organic Creamery in Randolph, Vermont, and you will see what he means. Cows are grazing in the fresh grass, which according to experts, produces healthier milk.

“We are interested in slow foods, the opposite of fast foods,” said Amy Huyffer, wife of Earl Ransom, manager of the dairy. When Stafford first started, it began selling to 17 different stores; it now sells its high quality organic dairy products statewide.