Sunday, March 6th: Let's Tawk Dairy Products

Port Madison Farm returns to your Ballard Farmers Market with its goat cheese and yogurt today, after their winter hiatus. Now that it is kidding season on the farm, the girls at Port Madison are producing lots of milk again. Be sure to welcome them back today. (Well, not the goats themselves, but Steve should be here.)

Dairy products, like this fresh Jersey cow milk from Silver Springs Creamery, are another of those items rarely seen around farmers markets ten years ago. In fact, in 2001, there were only seven licensed cheese makers in the entire state, and few independent dairies. Now, there are over 50 cheese makers and a growing number of milk bottlers, and their explosive growth has been fueled in large part by farmers markets. Other factors playing a role in the growth of cheese making and micro-dairies here include the demise of the Vitamilk Dairy Cooperative and the FDA approval of the use of bovine growth hormones in conventional milk production. As a result, many small dairies found themselves either without a means of getting their milk to market, or they were unwilling to have their milk mixed with adulterated milk from other sources. Many small, family dairies folded as a result, but some decided to make cheese. Some began bottling their own milk. And still others even made their own butter and yogurt, and farmers markets allowed them to reach a grateful public looking for pure, fresh, local food direct from family farmers.

Golden Glen Creamery has shifted away from milk bottling to focus on butter making in recent months, and as a result, they are now a significant player in butter production in Washington, as well as the only farmstead butter producer in the state. Another dairy farmer -- Eric Nelson -- once sold his milk to Vitamilk. But when that coop closed, he partnered with Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Pike Place Market, supplying them with much of the milk for their cheese making operation. He knows the trials and tribulations of being a small family dairy operator, and now he is running for a spot on the King County Conservation District Board of Supervisors. Many people are unaware of this body, elected to oversee the wellbeing of rural lands within King County. If you want to learn more about it, and participate in the 2011 election, taking place online now through March 15th, check out their website now. This is the first major online election ever held in the U.S., and it takes a two-step process, so read about it now.

Samish Bay Cheese, out of Bow, is one of those earlier cheese makers in Washington, as well as one of the first grass-fed beef producers. They started making their certified-organic cheese in 1999. They also make yogurt and feta, pictured above. And they produce pork now, too.

We even enjoy ice cream at our farmers markets these days. There was a time when some county health departments told markets that the only ice cream they'd allow in was pre-packaged stuff from Nestle. Blech! Well, our local ice cream makers have gotten savvy, and now folks like Whidbey Island Ice Cream offer locally-made ice cream bars. Have you ever wondered why they have to go through the process of carefully removing two layers of wrapping from those bars when you buy them? It's to keep the Man at the health department happy. It's what's inside those two wrappers that keeps the rest of us happy! (And who sez I ain't never teachin' you nothing here?)

Looking for bottled raw cows milk? Check out Sea Breeze Farm. But get there early, as they often sell out. And while you're there, ask George why he likes his raw?

Raw-milk cheese in the United States is under increasing attack by federal regulators seemingly bent on eliminating it from existence with tighter regulations and draconian enforcement against family creameries across the country. Cheese is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, forms of food preservation there is, and people have been safely eating it for many thousands of years. If you are interested in learning more about the FDA seizure of Estrella Family Creamery, and efforts to help the Estrella family during this difficult time for them, a group of supporters and friends have set up a blog here on WordPress. It contains discussions of the situation and info on how you can help. There has also been setup a “Save the Estrella Family Creamery” Facebook page.

There is much more waiting for you at your Ballard Farmers Market today. Just check the What’s Fresh Now! listings in the upper right-hand corner of this page for a more complete accounting of what is in season right now. But please note that due to our recent cold weather, some crops may not be available as anticipated.