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The Dairy In Your Backyard

Freshly whipped cream adorningthe perfect slice of pecan pie. A tall glass of milk with cookies still warm from the oven. A frothy cup of eggnog flecked with freshly grated nutmeg.

These are but a few of the indulgences of the holiday season,brought to you courtesy of fresh cream, butter and milk. It is one thing to appreciate the rich flavor that good-quality dairy lends to your favorite dishes simply by eating them. But a visit to Calder Dairy Farm, resting in the bucolic countryside of northern Monroe County, will surely bring about a new layer of pleasure and appreciation for every dollop of cream or pat of butter on your plate.

Once off the interstate, you’ll make your trip to the dairy on the country roads near Milan, Michigan. As you drive, the scenery opens up, giving way to small family farms studded with red barns made dusty with the remnants of the fall harvest. While the landscape appears to be entering the subdued dormancy of winter, Calder Farm is still hopping with activity. That’s exactly how the Calder family likes it. 

“It used to be that everybody could claim a farmer in their background somewhere, but     these days that’s happening less and less,” says farm manager Nicole Noble. So the Calders (who have owned and operated the farm for three generations) opened their farm to the public as a way to narrow that gap in relationship between producer and consumer.

Visitors are encouraged to help bottle-feed the young calves each afternoon—a perfect opportunity for children to get hands-on time with an animal that contributes so directly to their daily meals. The calves are soft, charming and eager—don’t be surprised if you get an unexpected “kiss” after giving one its bottle. While the calves are adorable, and there is a variety of other farm animals for families to watch and learn about, Calder Farm is no petting zoo. All the milk that goes into Calder dairy products is gathered at the farm. Approximately 90 cows— both Brown Swiss and Holstein—get milked twice a day, and gathering “milk of a better kind,” as the folks at Calder like to say, takes hard work and a commitment to quality.

The philosophy of delivering a product of a better kind starts with caring about the cows themselves. Unlike most farms, you’ll not see numbered ear tags on each cow—rather, tags bearing thoughtful monikers like Violet, Butters, Einstein and Salami. Each one is cared for and fed according to their individual growth needs.

“For example,” explains Noble, “Just like you wouldn’t feed a toddler the same as you’d feed a teenager, we feed our lactating moms differently than we feed the moms-to-be.” A nutritionist helps formulate the proper ration for the cows, balancing the amounts of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals found in the various types of feed and silage mixed for the animals. Providing customized nutrition and plenty of TLC instead of utilizing artificial growth hormones is Calder’s strategy for better milk production.
 

Choosing dairy products raised with no additional hormones is valued more by consumers today than ever before, and fortunately it’s a Calder value as well.

“Customers want a purer version of the product, minus the chemicals, and so that’s what we bring them,” says Noble. Additionally, the farm grows nearly all its own feed for the cows, and during the spring and summer months the cows spend portions of each day grazing.

Visitors can watch the cows being milked daily in the farm’s milking parlor. Each one of “the girls” calmly takes her place at the milking machine and gives what she can. From there, the milk is loaded up into a tanker and hauled to the dairy in Lincoln Park. There, the milk is pasteurized and processed in small batches. Once you’ve seen the milking, it’s time to head into the farm store to see the full range of products made with Calder milk. This is truly where farm meets table, to your mouth’s delight. It’s hard to miss the 30-plus flavors of ice cream laid out in the freezer case. The flavors range from the old standbys—chocolate, butter pecan and vanilla—to seasonal flavors such as spicy Pumpkin or minty Candy Cane. The Eggnog ice cream is made of Calder’s homemade eggnog, resulting in a rich frozen custard.

The dairy dabbles in experimental flavors as well. They developed a terrific Horchata ice cream for last year’s Cinco de Mayo festival in Detroit’s Mexicantown, and now offer that flavor to the public. The stores that carry Calder products do sell a select few flavors of ice cream as well, but if you want to taste and purchase their full line of flavors, the farm’s store is a great place to load your cooler. Bringing a large cooler with ice is strongly recommended, but even if you forget, you can still enjoy ice cream in a freshly made waffle cone. If ice cream isn’t your temptation, then take a look at their vintage milk cooler, filled with everything from cream and buttermilk to butter, cottage cheese and drinking yogurts. And of course there’s the milk packaged in reusable, recyclable glass bottles.

One of the unique aspects of Calder Dairy is the home delivery service that has been providing loyal customers with milk, cream and other products since 1956. Who else but your neighborhood milkman can deliver such nostalgia with a smile?
 
It’s so easy find ourselves moving at warp speed as the holidays approach—shopping, baking cookies enmasse for the neighbors, drop-ins and office parties. While it almost seems an antiquated notion to take things slow this time of year, an afternoon at Calder Dairy Farm is just one way to reconnect with all things simple and delicious.
 
To learn more about Calder, please go to http://www.calderdairy.com

Alex Harrison

 
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