This Delicious, Incredibly Fresh Dairy Brings The West Loop Back To Its Roots

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Jul 27, 2015 2:45PM

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"Cheesecake, elderflower raspberries, sweet biscuit crust & fresh whipped cream thanks to 1871 Dairy & Seedling Fruits" at White Oak Tavern & Inn (via Facebook)

While the West Loop rapidly changes from meat-packing to hot restaurants and condos, one company wants to bring back a type of food business that the area lost long ago: dairy.

"In 1910, Chicagoland had over 200 milk bottlers in the city. That same year, McHenry County was the third largest dairy producer in the country," says Travis Pyykkonen. He wants his company, 1871 Dairy, to turn the West Loop into a hub for ultra-fresh dairy products made with local milk from pastured cows.

Many Americans have never had milk that tastes truly good—milk that's worth tasting by itself rather than just pouring over cereal. I certainly never had it until I briefly lived in Sweden, where I had Arla's Gammaldags Mjolk ("old fashioned milk"), a fatty, delicious milk that tasted of spring flowers and butter. A milk I drank despite being genetically lactose intolerant. My attempts to find such milk locally in the past were thwarted by milk that, while it certainly better than commodity milk, separated and spoiled easily. And then I had 1871's milk.

2015_07_1871_cows.jpg The fact that 1871's milk tastes incredible and has an excellent, creamy texture allows the company to target chefs at places like Alinea, Floriole and White Oak, as well as coffee roasters like Ipsento. Because it is not homogenized, a process that breaks up fat globules for more uniformity, or standardized, which removes the heavy cream, it retains a delightful butteriness. But it is also fresh enough to avoid the clumping that bedevils so much unhomogenized milk. The freshness comes from a distribution that brings the milk into the city quickly soon after milking and delivers it the same day.

The West Loop processing location will speed this up further and also allow them to add more products, including talented Pastry Chef Dana Cree's (formerly of Blackbird) already excellent Hello Ice Cream line.

Pyykkonen says it will also be a place where "people can come in and learn about dairy products, it will connect people with good dairy farming. Consumers are more willing to pay for this with education."

The milk is significantly more expensive than even average grocery store organic milk, but at this point the creators are hoping when people try it and engage with it, they'll feel it's worth it.

So far all the milk comes from one farmer in Illinois, Joseph Zaiger, but 1871 is hoping to acquire some land in Wisconsin for dairy cows to graze on for their first expansion. Grazing is crucial because 1871's milk comes from entirely grass-fed cows. Some dairy products labeled grass-grazed or grass-fed are from cattle fed other sources of feed as well as grass. (There is no regulation of the term for dairy products, hence no clear standards.) But 1871 is committed to 100 percent grass.

"We've seen a 90 percent reduction in vet bills—it's what cows are made to eat," says Pyykkonen. "They don't need to be far away like CAFO [confined animal feeding operation] dairies, people will be able to visit these kind of farms."

I'm not the only lactose intolerant individual who tolerates this milk better (I can drink about one glass per day without symptoms). The milk is not raw, but is low-temperature pasteurized, which Pyykkonen says leaves the majority of enzymes in the milk active and prevents the "cooked" flavor sometimes present in high and ultra-high temperature pasteurized milk. However, research on the subject of how it affects digestion remains mixed, with high levels of variation in tolerance between lactose intolerant individuals. The only way to know if you personally tolerate it better is to slowly and carefully try it for yourself.

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Currently the product line is simple: whole milk and fixed flavors of full-fat yogurts (plain, honey, maple vanilla, maple raspberry and maple blueberry). They aim to open their full West Loop location by the end of the year, which will have a shop. Under Dane Cree's culinary direction they are planning on adding a lot more products including creme fraiche, cottage cheese and their own line of simple ice cream flavors.

For now, if you want to buy it for yourself, 1871's products can currently be purchased at Green City Market, as well as retailers like Eataly, Harvestime Foods and Publican Quality Meats. But call in advance to make sure it's in stock.