Shunpike Dairy: Milk So Fresh, You Pour It Yourself
By Don Rosendale
Every day or so, Kelly Fierrevante drives to the Shunpike Dairy in Millbrook to fill a container of raw milk for her three sons. She says she makes the trip, and pays more than what she might for a quart of milk in the supermarket, not only because this milk is “creamier and more full of flavor” than the store-bought kind, but also because she is convinced it’s healthier.
Liz Baldwin [photo, right], who runs the dairy solely with the help of her son, Timothy, says there are around 500 other local people who visit the dairy regularly to pour their own milk for the price of $2 a quart or $6 a gallon.
The dairy, which straddles the country road that gives it its name, has 50 cows grazing on its 188 acres. Even a bovine novice would notice the different breeds calling the dairy home — five, in fact, and Baldwin proudly ticks off their breeds: Guernsey, Jersey, Holstein, Ayshire, Brown Swiss and Lineback. The milk of all these breeds is co-mingled because, Baldwin believes, it adds more flavor to the end product.
While the farm has been in the Baldwin family for almost 50 years — at one time it was known as Tonelwin Farm, an acronym derived from the family names of a former handyman — Baldwin ended her conventional dairying and started selling raw milk in 2010, when she received her New York State certification. It was economics, as well as the desire to produce a healthier product, that drove her into selling raw milk. The dairy, in the hamlet of Lithgow midway between Millbrook and Amenia, is situated in an area which was a major dairy farm center a hundred years ago. Today the farm is one of the few survivors, and by selling raw milk Baldwin can make a living from fewer cows.
Selling (and buying) raw milk isn’t all that simple. Once a month, inspectors from New York State Agriculture and Markets visit the dairy to test samples for bacteria and antibiotics. (While Baldwin’s cows are not fed hormones or antibiotics, the milk is not “certified organic,” which, she says, is a “whole different game.”) All of the milk goes into a 100-gallon tank with a spigot at the bottom. By law, Baldwin explains, customers have to open the spigot themselves, she can’t do it for them, and it can’t be re-sold in supermarkets. The milk drawn from that spigot is fresh within a day or so. With the “sell by” date for grocery store milk lasting a week or more, the question becomes, how can anything that far removed from the cow’s udder be nutritious?
t’s not just the “pour your own” aspect that makes the Shunpike Dairy’s milk different from grocery store versions. The big (and somewhat controversial) distinction: “It’s not pasteurized,” says Baldwin, as she gives a tour of the milking shed, dressed in a sweatshirt and muck boots. Pasteurized milk has been heated to 180 degrees, which many people believe destroys a lot of its nutrients. The milk also is not homogenized, which Baldwin says means spun in a centrifuge until the cream is disbursed through the milk. “If you let our milk sit in the bottle for a couple of days, the cream will rise to the top,” she explains, just like in the old-fashioned milk bottles with a bulge at the neck to accommodate the cream.
Whether or not raw milk is better for you than the pasteurized kind is the subject of considerable debate. On the one hand, many medical associations urge consumers to drink only pasteurized milk, while there is an equal body of professional studies which say children who are given raw milk have fewer allergies and a lower rate of asthma, due to pasteurization’s destruction of milk’s enzymes and half of its Vitamin C. And then there are those who don’t believe in consuming any milk at all — but that’s a whole other issue.
While raw milk is currently the bulk of her business, Baldwin is diversifying her farming operations. She sells free-range eggs and home-raised vegetables from an “honor system” roadside table and, this coming summer, visitors can expect to find a shed selling local cheeses made from the raw milk. But you’ll still have to get out of the car and visit the cow barn to pour your own milk from the spigot.