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Atlanta gets fresh: Georgia farms offer sweet dairy products

Suzanne Forte Published on 20 December 2010

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AtlantaFresh is unlike any other creamery in the Southeast, offering hand-crafted quality yogurt, crème fraiche and fresh mozzarella. These artisan creamery products are made slowly from the contented cows of the nearby Johnston Family Farm in Newborn, Georgia.

“Everything we make is in small batches by hand,” says AtlantaFresh Founder Ron Marks. “Starting with great milk and getting fresh dairy products to market as soon as they’re made is the key to quality,” he says. “AtlantaFresh products are a treat. You can taste the quality difference.”

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Each day, AtlantaFresh gets Johnston Family Farm milk from that morning and the previous evening’s milkings.

“It’s beautiful, raw milk, right from Johnston’s Jersey cows and less than a day out of the cow. Jersey’s have the highest butterfat content in their milk,” says Marks.

"There are 160 cows on 180 acres, fully pastured and grass-fed. “They are truly happy cows.”

Traditional European method
Commercial dairies produce yogurt in a fully automated process, thousands of gallons at a time. AtlantaFresh makes yogurt in a low-tech, old-world style in 90-gallon batches. The texture of AtlantaFresh yogurt is rich, thick and luxurious, with no added starches or thickener—one of the many benefits of the straining process.

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“We turn AtlantaFresh yogurt around in a few days, using an extremely traditional European style, relatively unique among yogurts in the States,” explains Marks.

“Most yogurts are ‘cup-set’. Ours is batch-cultured, chilled and then has most of the whey strained off for a remarkably smooth and full-flavored yogurt. As a true, traditional Greek-style yogurt, our tangy, full flavor is the result of fresh-culturing every batch to a lower acidity. It takes us 1 gallon of milk to make ½ gallon of yogurt.”

Refreshingly small
Marks has been in the food business for 42 years. He grew up in the small coal-mining town of Renton, Pennsylvania, where his father trained him as a butcher and sausage maker in the family general store.

Marks never forgot his early food education. After careers as a chef, culinary consultant, consumer researcher and product developer, he realized what was missing on the food scene in the Southeast.

“In PA and throughout the Northeast, you would find small dairies that would distribute to the local towns on a daily basis and there was nothing like that here. I wanted to fill that niche in Atlanta.”

Sweet Grass Dairy
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Located in Thomasville, Georgia is a farm called Sweet Grass Dairy. Founded in 2000, the farm features 140 acres of pastureland and started with a small herd of dairy goats and grass-based jersey cow’s milk.

Focused on sustainable farming practices, Sweet Grass Dairy employs the rotational grazing system where animals graze lush pasture. This style of dairying allows the cows and goats to roam freely over the pastures, unfettered and unconfined. They eat fresh green grass and clovers that change with the seasons, and give the milk a delicious taste.

Award-winning cheese
Sweet Grass Dairy has won several awards including the American Cheese Society Competition for both their Clayburne and Fresh Chevre cheeses. The dairy has also won second place awards for their Botana in the cheddar made from goat’s milk, aged less than 12 months and for their Lumiere, in the Farmstead cheeses, open category made from goat’s milk. The Velvet Rose also received an award with a third place medal in the soft ripened cheeses made from cow’s milk.

Home sweet home
Sweet Grass Dairy products have found many homes in Georgia and are featured in several local restaurants and specialty stores. Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses can be found at the Five and Ten in Athens, Watershed and Bacchanalia in Atlanta and The Cloister is Sea Island, all James Beard Award winners.

Sweet Grass Dairy has also partnered with Park 75, the acclaimed restaurant in Atlanta’s Four Seasons Hotel, and hosted a chef’s table for a group of veteran wine and food writers. Atlanta Whole Foods locations and the city’s famous Star Provisions carry Sweet Grass products. The Epicurean, the gourmet food and wine store near Emory University in Atlanta, offers these incredible cheeses.

Going organic
Georgia Organics brings together growers, consumers, rural counties and urban communities by heightening the awareness of healthy grown food. Through innovative networks of sustainable family farms and businesses, Georgia Organics encourages access to nutritious, locally-grown foods via schools, institutions, work places, grocery stores, markets and neighborhoods.

Learn more at the 2011 AG Connect Expo
On January 8-11, the 2011 AG Connect Expo will be held in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center. For more information about how dairy is connected to the world of agriculture, visit www.agconnect.com PD

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