Redwood Hill Farm: Part 2 - The Creamery

Last post we learned a bit about goat raising from Scott Bice of Redwood Hill Farm. Now it's time to see what happens to all that organic goat milk that is collected each day from his farm and five others that Redwood Hill Farm works with. It all gets transported to their solar powered creamery on the outskirts of Sebastopol.

Goat milk products are becoming more and more popular as lactose intolerance, like so many other food allergies lately, is increasing in the population. Goat milk has lactose, but a lot less of it and so it can be tolerated by many people who can no longer drink cow milk. Goat milk happens to be closest in structure to human milk. The fat globules are smaller which aids in digestion and in a recent study of infants allergic to cow milk found that 93% of them were able to drink goat milk with absolutely no allergic reaction.

photo: Redwood Hill Farm
As early as 1972 Redwood Hill Farm started to branch out into new products with kefir, or drinkable yogurt. They now have three flavors of kefir and five flavors of yogurt. In 1990 they started into cheeses with a goat milk feta. Since then they have added four flavors of chevre, two cheddars, and five other types of cheese: Cameo, Camellia, California Crottin, Tetra, and Bucheret.

For my tour of the creamery I am met by Rich Martin, the Chief Marketing Officer. He's familiar with dairies as he worked previously at Strauss Family Creamery. 
installation of reverse osmosis system

RHF is adding in a new system that will allow them to separate the cream from the milk themselves. Currently they've had to use a middle-man. Rich explains to me that between the farm and creamery they've had to stop at another processing center to have the cream and milk separated. By installing this new system on-site, they will be able to go directly from farm to creamery.  They are also installing a machine that will use reverse osmosis to thicken the milk by removing a lot of the water. Many companies thicken the milk by adding milk powder. RHF doesn't want to go that route.

Rich shows me the yogurt and kefir processing first. The milk is pasteurized in the first tank and then the other tanks are where they add back the probiotic bacteria cultures that create yogurt. Only a couple are required by the USDA to be able to call a product yogurt, but RHF has their own blend of ten bacteria strains used to make flavorful and very healthy (probiotic) yogurt.  Here is a great video from the RHF site where owner Jennifer Bice explains the yogurt making process...

Redwood Hill makes plain and vanilla and then the rest are fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts. This way they only have to switch out the fruit flavoring on the processing line. They help reduce waste by using pull-top lids and by shrink wrap packaging versus using lots of cardboard boxes.

Recently they asked some of my blogger friends to create their own yogurt flavors and some were very creative, including my friend Andrew at Eating Rules. He made a savory Yogurt Margherita recipe that you should try. 

The cheese making section is a lot more labor intensive and less reliant on automation. Mirabel takes over explaining this section of the creamery. She is one of about 55 people employed by Redwood Hill.

The easiest cheese is the feta, which is made in the large tables and then cut into one pound blocks. Some blocks are left whole and shipped out for commercial use at restaurants.  Smaller blocks are cut for the consumer and shipped to grocery stores. 

The other cheeses are more involved. They require different cultures and are manually put into plastic molds to create uniform size and shape. The cheeses then get aged according to type. The feta is the quickest at about a month, while the cheddar can take close to 3 years. 

I want to thank Redwood Hill Farm for giving me a great cooler filled with a sampling of everything they make. I'm still eating the cheeses.  As a point of disclosure, they did not approach me for these blog posts, I asked them if I could come visit and they were kind enough to give me private tours. 

These posts this week focused on the goats and Redwood Hill Farm specifically, but their other company, Green Valley Organics, is worthy of note.  Using cow milk treated to remove the lactose, they produce yogurt, kefir, and sour cream - all lactose free. This fall they are coming out with cream cheese and Rich gave me a sample package of it to try and share with a lactose intolerant friend of mine. We both agreed it had that light cream cheese flavor while having a wonderful creamy and very smooth texture. It should be in stores in the fall. My friend loved it when she got to have the bagels and lox she so missed since her diagnosis. She can't wait for it to appear in stores. 

You'll find both Redwood Hill Farm and Green Valley Organic products in health food and better grocery stores. You'll definitely find them in Whole Foods.

For other Farm-to-Fork style stories like this one, click here: Farm-to-Fork