Not many things could convince me to wake up before the sun, but massive quantities of cheese, the chance to meet fellow bloggers, and cow selfies is one of them.
Today I’m so excited to share some photos from my trip to Cleveland in October. The trip was hosted by the American Dairy Association Mideast and, boy, do they know how to plan a Dairy Adventure. I was thrilled to get the chance to explore another Ohio city, and I have to say, I was impressed. Turns out Columbus isn’t the only hopping place in this great state. Our adventure started with a wine and cheese party at the House of Blues. The Ohio weather fairies must’ve been happy to see us, because it was a balmy 65 degrees that night. I’m so glad because the view from the balcony was pretty stellar.
After sampling my body weight in colby, yogurt, brie, gouda, and cheddar cheeses, we headed back to the hotel to get some shut eye before our early morning wake up call. When I said we were getting up before the sun, I was not joking. 5 AM came a little too quickly, but somehow we all managed to pull ourselves together before we arrived at Richman Dairy Farm on Tuesday morning. I’m not planning to make a habit of these early wake up calls, but I have to admit seeing the sun rise over the farm was a special treat.
While at Richman’s we got to see where the cows are kept and how they are milked. It’s really an amazing process. The milk is never touched by human hands. It goes straight from the cow through sterilized tubes into a chilled holding bin. The farmers keep a very close watch on the cows health, always monitoring for signs of mastitis or other illness. If a cow is sick, they remove them from the milk supply and nurse them back to health before returning them.
While we were at the farm, I got to milk my first cow! It was actually much harder than I thought it would be. I can’t imagine how tired folks used to get when it was all done by hand!
From Richman’s we piled back into the bus and drove to Pearl Valley Cheese in Fresno, Ohio. Pearl Valley is a family-owned company that has been producing cheese since 1928. They specialize in Swiss cheese, but also make other varieties including Colby, Pepper Jack, Farmers, and Lacey Baby Swiss.
We followed the life cycle of Swiss cheese from start through aging and finally, my favorite part, tasting! I have never tasted anything like their fresh Swiss cheese straight from the aging barrel. It was DIVINE.
I was also excited to learn Ohio is the number one producer of Swiss cheese in the country, and the Buckeye State is also responsible for the very first Swiss cheese produced in the U.S.
After we left Pearl Valley, we were treated to an excellent Amish lunch featuring all of my favorites–fried chicken, pot roast, the creamiest butteriest mashed potatoes, noodles, and, of course, Amish peanut butter and homemade bread. Gathering around the table and passing heaping plates of food is perhaps my favorite thing in the world. I loved every minute of gabbing and gobbling with these ladies.
At this point, my body was ready for nap time, but we had one more stop to make! We went to Andreas Dairy Farm, which is another family owned farm but on a much larger scale than the first one. I was amazed to see how clean and well kept the place was, even with so many cows! It was clear cow comfort, health, and safety was a priority for the Andreas as well. They carefully plan the cows diets, ensuring they get just the right balance of nutrients for every meal. My favorite part of our visit was getting to feed the baby cows. These hungry little calves sucked down this entire bottle in no time!
We had a little break after our last farm visit, which gave me a chance to wash the smell of manure and silage off of me before dinner. In general, I don’t like to come to dinner smelling like cows. I know, so weird.
That night, I got to do something I’ve been wanting to do my whole life–visit the Cleveland Browns stadium! Everyone in my family is a huge Browns fan, so it was really neat to not only see the stadium, but actually walk out onto the field. There was a message welcoming our group on the scoreboard. I truly felt like royalty.
We had a special dinner in one of the club suites (wouldn’t mind sitting there during a game!!), where we also got to meet Joe Thomas, offensive tackle for the Browns. Joe works with ADA Mideast on their Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign. The campaign encourages students to eat nutrient rich foods and get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
After stuffing myself to the brim with the Michael Symon-inspired pulled pork and polenta, we headed back to the hotel for our final night in Cleveland.
The next morning, we got up early again, but this time to head to an elementary school to eat breakfast with the kiddos. Getting a healthy breakfast is so important to children’s academic success. I got to sit with this sweet girl, a 7th grader, who told me what her favorite breakfast was (the whole grain blueberry pancakes) and which class she loves most (science!).
This was honestly my favorite part of the trip. It’s amazing how something as simple as breakfast can impact a child’s life for the better. It’s great to see that in action! After the kids headed off to class, we had an opportunity to ask questions about dairy. A lot of things came up, and I’m sure they’re questions you’ve had as well. Here are some of the things we discussed:
Hormones in Milk- Hormones are naturally present in animal products and plants, including milk. Some farmers do give there cows additional bST to increase milk production, but studies show there is no affect on the hormone levels in the milk produced by these cows.
Antibiotics and Milk- All milk is tested for antibiotics, and any that is found to have antibiotics must be disposed of. That’s the law, so no milk with antibiotics ever makes it to the grocery store.
Lactose intolerance and Dairy- If you’re lactose intolerant, you can still drink lactose free milk! We did a blind taste test, and I was surprised how similar lactose free and regular milk tasted. Plus, you still get all the calcium, nutrients, and protein found in milk. Also, many aged cheeses are lactose free. Check the labels. If there is 0 grams of sugar in the cheese, that means it’s lactose free!
Organic vs. Conventional Milk- There is no difference in quality, safety, or nutrition between the two milks. The difference is in how the milk is produced on the farm.
Our trip ended with, yep, you guessed it MORE DAIRY! We went to Cleveland Heights to visit MELT, a restaurant specializing in innovative grilled cheeses. Friends, this is my kind of restaurant. We ordered seven of their giant sandwiches, so we got to try a little bit of each one. If only I could do this at every restaurant! It would seriously help my ordering anxiety. I loved every single one, but my favorites were the cream cheese and banana grilled cheese and this monster, the MELT challenge, which features all 13 of their cheeses. At first I thought it would be overwhelming, but it was actually just really, really good.
Needless to say, I left Cleveland with a full belly, a lot of great information, and some memories I’ll hold onto for a long time. Check out these other lovely, goofy, brilliant ladies’ blogs. I know you’ll love them as much as I do!