Milked

From the first days of planning the Volta menu, we've been working with the local grass-fed, quasi-organic diary to use their amazing whole milk products as the foundation of our drinks. Over the summer, when we were gathering the numbers for our business plan, the dairy's owner was seemingly excited about working with us. Our wholesale half-gallon cost was very much in-line with what we expected, about a quarter below the retail price of a half gallon of Organic Valley. Last time I checked in with the dairy's owner, he was on board to work with us and would even be able to deliver on his way to the local farmer's market. Unfortunately for us, three events coalesced that will probably prevent us from using his milk. First, we've seen a dramatic spike in the price of milk across the board. The retail price of a gallon of commercial whole milk was pushing up towards the price of the local product, so the local guy started to adjust his price upwards. Next, the demand for "pet-quality" raw milk, available from him at the farmer's market, has shot through the roof. Since he gets at least a two dollar a gallon premium for the raw milk, it's a win-win for him: he doesn't have to bother with low-temp pasteurization, saving him time and money, and he's making more money off of the product that he'd have to otherwise divert into a lower profit item. Finally, he's hitting the limit of production for the size of his herd. He's selling everything he's making, with a big chunk of that going through direct sales at full retail.

At the moment, full retail is $10 a gallon.

My cost would be a few bucks lower, but still double the current price of commodity milk. And the local milk isn't even organic. It is a wonderful product. It makes the best ice cream that I've ever produced. But by the dairyman's own admission, he even if I wanted to pay full retail he couldn't sell me enough milk to keep up with my demand. He's already shorting one of the local groceries he sells through when the demand for the raw milk spikes. I'm hoping he'll come around and want to work with me, but the position yesterday was that I shouldn't count on using his product except for limited and occasional offerings.

Unfortunately, north Florida doesn't have a single local organic dairy with commercial production and delivery. We have no other local option. Not that we don't have dairies, but we're surrounded by commodity dairy farms: thousands of cows in close quarters, with acre-wide lagoons of manure that leach into the local ground water and pollute our springs. Even if I wanted to use that product, I couldn't. All the milk is collected and mixed for commercial distribution on the national level. Looks like we're going to be using OV, although a local food activist is suggesting that I check out Publix organic for a non-UHTP alternative.