If you’ve ever ordered a plain latte at Dos Gatos and wondered how something so basic can taste so luxurious, we’ve got your answer: rich, creamy, local milk from Duchess Dairy.
Duchess Dairy Products of Rural Retreat, Virginia, began operating in December 2009. The owners (the Huffard family and Blankenship + Slemp families) have been in the dairy business for generations, but it’s not just their expertise that makes Duchess great. Duchess Dairy is 100% comprised of Jersey cows, known for their superior milk compared to other dairy cows. You can see the quality before you even taste it; Duchess’s whole milk has a slightly golden tinge from its high fat content, and our baristas say it steams like a dream. It tastes rich and slightly sweet, making it the perfect coffee accompaniment. Studies have shown that milk from Jersey cows has 17% more calcium than other milk, with 10% more protein per cup to boot. We’ve known about all these facts since we switched to using Duchess, but we wanted to learn more about the farm and the processes that create such an amazing product.
On a moody day back in the fall, several of us took a field trip to Rural Treat to see Duchess Dairy Products in action. First we took a tour of their production plant, led by John Huffard. It’s less than five miles from their farm and run by plant manager, Jordan Hall. The plant is tinier than we’d imagined, basically a one room where the milk is actually processed as well as a refrigerated area, a front office, and a side office where each batch of milk is double tested for quality control. It’s amazing how much milk comes from this small facility – about 2000 gallons of combined products per week. Duchess produces heavy cream, whole milk, 2% milk, 2% chocolate milk, and a few varieties of drinkable yogurt, which is swapped during the holidays for eggnog production. The 2% milk and chocolate milk is largely made for area schools, but Duchess sells their products to several local shops and grocery stores throughout Virginia and Tennessee (Dos Gatos is the last stop on their weekly Monday deliveries).
After we visited the production plant, we drove up the road to see the real stars of the Duchess show, the Jersey cows themselves. The land is beautiful, 600 acres of rolling hills that have been in the Huffard family since the British ruled the colonies. We were greeted by some of the prettiest, sweetest cows you can imagine. Jersey cows are fairly petite, just one of the reasons their carbon footprint is less than other kinds of dairy cows. John talked about sustainability in a casual way that made Duchess’s processes seem like totally common sense. Their cows are mostly grassfed, with much of their supplemented feed being grown right on the farm (a mix of hay, dried corn husks, and other roughage that would otherwise go to waste). The cows are milked in small groups that are rotated so that none of them get over exerted and then returned to copious pastures. Another process Duchesses uses is sex-select semen that almost completely ensures that the cows will give birth to female babies. This is a huge deal for more sustainable, ethical dairy: the vast majority of dairy farms don’t use sex-select semen, and male calves that are no use in producing milk are either sold for veal or beef or even killed outright (the cheaper option oftentimes). John explained that while the trend of responsible agriculture has grown in recent years, this focus has always been at Duchess’s core. Better processes make for healthier land, longterm sustainability, and ultimately, better milk.
Seeing Duchess Dairy for ourselves made us even more proud to offer their products at Dos Gatos. Milk plays a large role on any coffee shop’s menu, so it’s more important than ever to support local farmers who care about the land and herds tend and the dairy they produce. The delicious taste is just the cherry on top. To learn more about Jersey cows, check out Duchess Dairy and the US Jersey Cattle Association. To buy your own Duchess Dairy, check out Boone Street Market or a Food Lion near you.