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Twin Brook Creamery: By the glass bottle

Dec 1st, 2012 | Category: Community, Farms

by Jessica Harbert

Twin Brook Creamery, located north of Lynden, is the only dairy in the area bottling milk in glass, distributing from the Canadian Border south to Olympia. The five-generation dairy farm, established in 1910, expanded the bottling facility last fall with help from funds awarded through the Whatcom Investment Network, a local organization connecting local investors with community opportunities.

Owner Larry Stap holds an old painting of the dairy farm. The five-generation dairy farm, established in 1910, expanded their bottling facility last fall with help from funds loaned through the Whatcom Investment Network. PHOTO BY ASHLEY BENNETT/BENNETT BELKA PHOTOGRAPHY

Owner Larry Stap starts his day at 2:30 a.m., making the rounds on the three areas of land that comprise the farm, totaling nearly 200 acres. He owns the farm with his wife, Debbie, daughter, Michelle Tolsma, and son-in-law, Mark Tolsma.

“There is a lot more to a dairy farm than people realize,” Stap said. “Its 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”

The dairy farm has been the family trade for five generations. Stap’s great grandfather, Jacob, bought the farm and established the dairy in 1910. The farm then continued on through Stap’s grandfather, John, father, Jake, and then one of his brothers, Kermit, took over the farm in 1999. During this time, Larry started his own dairy farm in the area. When the opportunity to take over the family’s heritage farm was offered, Larry bought Twin Brook Creamery from his brother in 2000. And in 2006, Stap’s daughter, Michelle, and son-in-law, Mark, became part of Twin Brook Creamery, joining in as owners. Stap’s wife, Debbie, also grew up on a dairy farm and grew up learning the industry.

Last fall, the addition was finished, tripling the floor space in the facility housed in a converted double-car garage on the farm by adding 65 feet of space, Stap said. The farm bought a used rotary filler machine to fill the bottles automatically and a commercial bottle washer to clean the returned bottles and these changes have increased Twin Brook Creamery’s capacity. Before the expansion, all the milk was bottled through one machine with two bottles at a time, operated with a manual lever, and all bottles were washed in a restaurant-grade dishwasher, with dish racks Stap modified himself to properly hold the glass bottles upright.

“The automation has boggled our mind,” Stap said.

Twin Brook Creamery started bottling milk in glass in early 2007. When they began the process, there was little information available because no dairy farms in the area were using glass bottles to distribute, Stap said. The glass bottles are a sustainable method of distributing Twin Brook Creamery milk, with the added aspects of brand identification and novelty in grocery stores.

Bottles of eggnog, chocolate milk and milk. PHOTO BY ASHLEY BENNETT/BENNETT BELKA PHOTOGRAPHY

“Rather than get bigger we thought ‘let’s do something different,’” Stap said. “During a year of research, we found a niche no one was in: glass bottles. Glass is unique in that it doesn’t affect the taste of the milk. Odors and smells can’t permeate it.”

Twin Brook Creamery bottles the classics, offering whole milk, 2 percent, 1 percent, nonfat, heavy cream and half and half along with chocolate and eggnog seasonally, available mid-October through the end of the year.

To make the chocolate milk, Twin Brook adds powdered Dutch chocolate and white sugar. To make the eggnog, powdered egg yolks are added, along with white sugar, turmeric and nutmeg, and the milk is elevated to 6 percent for the thick consistency. No artificial sweeteners or flavors are added to the milk, Stap said.

The peak of the eggnog season is the week before Christmas, Stap said, and the biggest week of the year in total milk sales is the week before Thanksgiving.

The Green Barn in Lynden and the Community Food Co-op in downtown Bellingham were the first two grocery stores to sell Twin Brook Creamery products. Then, the Haggen grocery store in Fairhaven approached the farm about selling products, followed by Metropolitan Market in Seattle, which was the first chain store outside Whatcom County to sell Twin Brook Creamery milk, Stap said. Eventually the product began selling itself when grocery store QFC, a chain store owned by Kroger, inquired about selling Twin Brook Creamery milk, and now milk is being sold in at least 20 grocery stores.

In introducing glass bottles to dairy shelves in Western Washington, Stap said he has learned many new things about this niche market that weren’t factors in the beginning. For example, he said a grocer told him Twin Brook Creamery’s products help bring customers back with the return of the glass bottle for their deposit and also help increase the profitability of dairy shelves attributed to the novelty of offering a product that is different from everything it shares a shelf with.

Twin Brook Creamery raises and milks brown Jersey cows, which yield a sweeter milk with a higher solid percentage that gives milk its flavor, Stap said. The percentage listed on milk bottles (2 percent, 1 percent) is the amount of butter fat in the milk, with whole milk starting at 3.25 percent. The milk comes out of the cow at 5 percent butter fat. Typically milk sold in stores comes from the classic black and white Holstein cows. With around 200 cows, each cow at Twin Brook Creamery has an ear tag with a number which corresponds to an official certificate of registration of the Jersey cow with its own individual three-part name, a combination of the farm’s name, their sire (father’s) name and their own personal name, which is something not typically found with a larger dairy farm.

Pasteurization is the process of heating and cooling milk to decrease the amount of bacteria in the milk. There are three specific pasteurization processes, and Twin Brook Creamery uses the low temperature method consisting of heating the milk in 200 gallon vats to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 30 minutes. Other methods consist of heating the milk to more extreme temperatures for a shorter amount of time, which can be more efficient but the low-pasteurization method is more economical, Stap said, and unlike other pasteurization processes, the low temperature method retains the flavor of the milk and doesn’t destroy enzymes.

Homogenization is another process most dairies go through to make the milk a consistent texture. The equipment for this process is expensive, and initially Twin Brook Creamery opted out due to cost, Stap said. But after making that choice, he said he realized not homogenizing the milk actually retains the true taste and quality of the milk. Since Twin Brook Creamery milk is non-homogenized, the butter fat remains in the milk and the thick butter fat rises to the top of the bottle. The customer needs to shake the milk in the bottle before drinking it.

“This opened up a whole new market of people who want non-homogenized milk,” Stap said.

People who are lactose intolerant or can’t drink milk can often drink Twin Brook Creamery milk, Stap said, and the non-homogenized aspect is the only thing he can attribute that to. Because homogenization is altering the state of the milk it affects how the body processes the homogenized milk, he said, and this interesting theory is from his experience and customer feedback.

Another key to the quality of milk and keeping the shelf life longer is keeping the milk cold, Stap said. The coolers that store the milk on the farm are kept at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Milk freezes at 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

There is only one producer of glass bottles in North America, Stap said, in Ontario, Canada. Another challenge of bottling in glass is keeping an inventory to accommodate the bottle return process and the reality that some bottles never come back. This learning curve added another aspect of trial for Twin Brook Creamery, and for every one bottle they send to a grocery store Stap said they need from eight to 10 bottles at the farm.

For more information, call the farm at (360) 354-4105, visit www.twinbrookcreamery.com, or follow their Facebook page.

Published in the December 2012 issue of Grow Northwest

4 Comments to “Twin Brook Creamery: By the glass bottle”

  1. Carmen says:

    This is some of the best milk I’ve ever had. I never knew milk could taste that good. Definitely going to buy this brand from now on. Love that they are local and provide hormone free milk from grass fed cows.

  2. John Sekreta says:

    Was first introduced to Chocolate Milk at QFC in Redmond during Demo Day. The test came with the little Grand-daughters and was a Big it. My Glass Bottle is ready for return and the Grand-daughters are ready for a return as well. GREAT Product Twin Brook Creamery. We are Fans from now on.

  3. norine b. says:

    Just tried your milk and cream from Mt. Tabor, Or. QFC.
    Hubbie loves your milk and that cream WOW! Love the glass bottles, brings back childhood memories. Keep it coming!

  4. Terry Fields says:

    Tried chocolate milk from swedish cafe OMG smiley face.

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