The milk at Marben is special. Until recently, like most restaurants in the city, we were using one of the generic commercial brands of milk. Convenient and cheap. After all, it’s just milk right?
The realisation came after we changed our eggs and flour. We moved from large commercial consistent products to incredibly unique products from small local farms. One day while making brioche, the sous chef, Jack, and I realised that the only product that was wasn’t ‘special’ was the milk. We looked at each other in mischievous curiosity and said “let’s change that”.
After some asking around, we were introduced to Sheldon Creek Dairy. I decided to call them and spoke to Marianne for an hour. I was sold.
The farm is located in Loretto, ON. The family started with one single Holstein cow in the 1950s which they managed to purchase with the little money they had as it was injured. After being nursed back to health, the cow was able to be milked. Today, the farm has seventy-eight Holstein cows, all descended from the one cow purchased some sixty years ago. The cows are all free of antibiotics, hormones and steroids and are pastured year round. The farm also grows their own feed to supplement the diet of the cows: A mixture of fermented alfalfa and sweet hay. All of the feed they grow is free of pesticides and insecticides.
A farm that has these practices is not uncommon in Ontario. The farmers who raise our beef, pork, and chicken operate in a similar manner. The extra special part comes into play when the cows are milked. In addition to having the milking, processing and bottling facilities on their property, they have also installed a system that allows cows to choose to have themselves milked. The reasoning is quite simple. A nursing mother will need to be milked more often that a mother who had a calf nine months ago. The cows, therefore, experience less discomfort and can relieve themselves of milk build up at their whim. This ‘self-milking’ facility has resulted in fewer illnesses and lower blood pressure when milked, meaning it is a lower stress process.
All of these factors will result is a good quality milk. But there is another hurdle to overcome for this milk to hit the table. The pasteurization and separation process can be harsh. There is a legal minimum of pasteurization that needs to be reached. Going longer than this will damage the proteins, eliminate nutrients and deteriorate flavour. At Sheldon Creek, the milk is pasteurized to a legal minimum and separated used the ‘old method’ which separates the milk warm, as opposed to conventional systems which separates it chilled. When separating chilled, fat content of only around 18% can be achieved, with butterfat being added back in to get to 35%. Sheldon Creek produce a 45% cream along with their whole and skimmed milk. Their milks are also non-homogenized which means you get a delicious reward of a tablespoon of cream at the top of their bottles. What a treat!
The first time I tasted this milk, it took me back to my childhood in England. Bringing in the glass bottle of milk from the doorstep, pressing in the red foil seal and pouring a fresh glass of milk through the cream top. The sweetness and creamy thirst-quenching sensation of it running down my throat… it all came back to me.
Every drop of milk that is poured at Marben is from Sheldon Creek. It has stepped up our brioche, polenta and custards. This is one in a long line of products that we have taken to the next level to ensure that our philosophy and values are honest and true.
I encourage you to order a White Russian (totally off menu but we’ll make it happen) and taste the difference.
Chef Chris Locke