The Fresh Prince Of Tulare County: A Chat With Rosa Brothers Milk Company

When you operate in the dairy capital of the world, you have to truly excel to make an impression on the locals. With a creamy based out of Tulare, CA and a dairy in neighboring Hanford, CA, Rosa Brothers Milk Company is quietly redefining local fresh food by offering transparent production channels from farm to plate, educational opportunities to budding eaters and unique products like orange cream milk and real pistachio ice cream. We sat down with Noel Rosa, president of Rosa Brothers Milk Company, to talk about the importance of eating local, the power of sustainable farming practices, and the relationship between fresh dairy and fresh produce.

Q

What first inspired you to start the creamery in Tulare?

A

Our family has been dairy farmers for three generations, raising the crops and feeding our cows. We used to sell milk in bulk to cooperatives that made name brand products that you see in the supermarket and we never really knew where our product was going. It felt like a very faceless, nameless thing. People would tour our farm and ask “where can we buy some of your products from the farm?” We realized that even though we live in the largest dairy county in the world, locals couldn’t actually buy local milk! That being said, milk would come from this area, get processed in Southern California, and would eventually make its way back, but you didn’t really know where it was coming from. We realized that we could assure people local production, a transparent operation, and provide a better tasting, higher quality product.

Q

Few companies offer such a transparent supply chain as Rosa Brothers. How does the community respond to being able to see exactly how their favorite products are made?

A

Most of the dairy farmers around here have been really supportive because they appreciate the fact that we are handling the product well, putting it in great packaging, and presenting dairy products in a very sustainable fashion. They’re proud of that because they want everyone to realize the quality in dairy products. Sometimes in mass production things get overlooked or dip in quality due to the large size.

Q

By showing kids where our food comes from and how it’s made, do you think they have a greater appreciation for fresh food?

A

I definitely think so. When we decided to build our processing facility, we also set up a vistor’s center at the farm with a full tour. I expected families to tour the farm and bring their kids to the creamery afterwards to watch the process, but we found that we get a lot of schools too, often entire classrooms or entire grade levels. It feels great to have schools and families come out. We show them exactly how their milk is being produced, and then the steps leading to the products that they enjoy. You’re getting to see larger companies abandon these practices. When I was a small child we used to tour these kind of plants, but now a lot won’t let anyone in, almost like making the food processor into a black box. We like how our small plant lets people come in and see how their food is made.

Q

How important do you think sustainability is to farmers and the overarching community?

A

You’re talking to the guy who just spent two full days at the first ever dairy care sustainability summit. {Laughs} Yeah I think it’s important, and I know that farmers and consumers recognize that. Farmers are making every effort to be sustainable, and I think that everyone is pushing in the same direction. The disconnect happens when farmers don’t have the time or ability to get the word out to the broader public. Often, the public doesn’t really know because they don’t have the information coming to them from the farm community.

Q

What kind of sustainability programs do you utilize on the dairy/creamery?

A

On the farm level, we utilize organic fertilizer on the fields and use that manure to grow the crops that feed the cows and make that loop. We reuse water on our farm four times as well. First, we take water from wells to cool the milk, then we take that clean, fresh water to wash the cows. Afterwards, we store that water in a container to flush the lanes where the cows live to clean up their area. Finally, we catch that water again, remove the solids and use the water to fertilize crops. Another thing that we did was convert our whole farm to solar, so that we don’t put a big drain on the local power grid.

Q

Your products are known for being simultaneously creative and top quality. What inspires unique offering like root beer milk and orange cream milk?

A

There are other small operations across the country that have great flavors. I’ve visited some of these places and thought they would be great flavors to bring back to California. After we started with a few original ones, we started to get suggestions from consumers. For example, we made a cold-brew coffee milk. We partnered with a local coffee company called Lanna Coffee Company. They’re well known locally because they’ve partnered with a specific village in Thailand and they return a portion of their profits to the village so that they can afford to drill fresh water wells. We thought they’d be a cool company to partner with. This time last year, we had a lot of people asking if we could make horchata. First we went to every Mexican restaurant and grocery store we could find to discover the gold standard of horchata. We then developed our own flavor profile based off our favorites. Now we explore flavors on request.

Q

What kinds of local products do you use in your ice cream?

A

We have a fantastic pistachio ice cream. If you go in and see commercially produced pistachio ice cream, they often don’t even have actual pistachio pieces because they’re so expensive. They’ll do almonds and pistachio flavor instead. In ours, we grind pistachios into a paste and add whole pistachios afterwards. The farm that grows and processes the pistachios is only two miles away from our cows. The owners even went to school with my older brothers and sisters! It’s such a cool, local partnership and I’m really proud of it.

Q

How does produce play into your ice cream?

A

We use California strawberries to make our own jam. Then we add that jam to the ice cream, but real fruit is integral to the process. Same with bananas too. We buy them in bulk, peel them, and then add whole bananas into the ice cream freezer.

Q

How important is the link between fresh produce and fresh dairy?

A

We’re so fortunate to live in a state that has so many awesome agricultural commodities. Every kind of fruit, every kind of nut, you name it. It’s great to be able to combine things in a culinary way. I think it’s an important partnership.

Q

Milk is the backbone of so many dishes in the culinary world. How do you think having access to extremely fresh, pure dairy products can help chefs?

A

I think it can really improve the outcome of their finished product. We have a lot of chefs who buy directly from us. They tell me “this makes our finished product so much better.” They even tell us that our cream behaves differently. Sometimes when you get heavy cream from larger producers there are extra additives that change the properties of the cream. For us, it’s really easy to make fresh stuff because that’s how it comes out’ve the cow.

Q

Are there any interesting ways you’ve seen chefs utilize your products on their menu?

A

Some chefs will buy our ice cream or buy our ingredients to make their own ice cream. I know of one chef who has taken our heavy cream, made his own butter with it, and incorporated bone marrow into the butter. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creative ways to use dairy.

Q

What are some ways chefs and eaters can support their local farm or dairy?

A

It’s just as simple as doing a search online and finding out who is around you. Small farms aren’t able to do a lot of advertising in print media or on TV, so the internet is something that smaller operations like mine can afford to get onto. If you get out there and seek out farms and dairies, you’d be surprised by the cool stuff that’s out there. It’s often not even that far from you!