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Local Butter Gains Big Recognition

Tue, 06/26/2012 - 9:41am
JIM HOOK, (Chambersburg) Public Opinion

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Franklin County culture is rubbing off on big-city chefs.

Butter from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg is spreading through five-star eateries in the Northeast.

The local artisan butter was among 19 recommended by Culture, a national magazine about cheese and other foods.

"Cool," said Joe Miller, sales director for Trickling Springs. "It's cool they recognized us."

Trickling Springs, the little creamery store at 2330 Molly Pitcher Highway, has a local reputation for rich milk in returnable glass bottles - and richer ice cream.

The company strives not to mess up the "very rich, decadent" milk delivered to the creamery, Miller said.

"Our whole philosophy has been to minimally process our product and to pay close attention to the source of that product," Miller said.

Trickling Springs was founded in 2001 with the twin goals of providing a niche market for farmers who grass-feed their cows and showcasing their dairy products.

"Our plan was to sell most products locally," Miller said. "Farmers were doing an excellent job with milk production, but were unable to get it to market. It was sold on the conventional market."

Miller and Joe Byers, a former farmer and the remaining co-founder of Trickling Springs, previously sold supplies and equipment to dairy farmers.

Franklin County is Pennsylvania's No. 2 milk producer, behind Lancaster County.

"When we started in 2001, we weren't known much outside Chambersburg," Miller said. "It's been a slow growth and that has allowed us to learn our way into (the business). We've been blessed."

Chefs in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore have used Trickling Springs dairy products for a while, he said. New York is just discovering them.

New York cheesemonger Anne Saxelby described Trickling Springs' butter to Culture as "so rich and intense it's like anti-matter." She is credited with reinventing American cheeses at her tiny stand in the Essex Street Market. Once delivering her cheeses on a bicycle, she currently wholesales to the finest restaurants.

Miller hasn't met Saxelby, but found her description "interesting." She purchased the local butter through a distributor.

Culture got its recommended butters from the magazine's editorial advisory panel, including retailers, importers and mongers from around the country.

"We request their suggestions in an e-mail that goes out to everyone in the panel, asking them to please state their favorites in a cheese (or butter) category and explain why," editor-in-chief Elaine Khosrova said. "From there we usually have to trim the list for the sake of space, so sometimes other factors such as geographical diversity and the size of the producer are decisive in helping us choose one recommended product over another."

Miller said he was "grateful" for Culture's recognition.

But anti-matter?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires any product labeled as "butter" to have a minimum butterfat content of 80 percent. European standards are 82 percent. Trickling Springs butter weighs in at 91 percent.

"When you break butter the old-fashioned way, it comes to 87 to 89 percent butterfat," Miller said. "We don't culture it. We press out the additional buttermilk that we can."

"We didn't aim for this," Miller said. "We aimed for a product that was minimally processed. Chefs love it because it is something to work with. When you don't overprocess before they get it, there's more flavor there for them."

Artisan butters are following the recent trends of specialty beers, cheeses and wines. Private label butters accounted for 31 percent of U.S. butter sales in 2010, up from 28 percent in 2009, according to the Michigan State Extension. Forty-five new butter products were launched in 2010. Products have unique flavors or textures. Flavor is tied to fat.

Vilified for its fat content in the 1980s, butter sat in the dairy closet as health-conscious consumers turned to cheaper margarine. Butter made a comeback with the news that trans fats in margarine were harmful.

Artisan butter, while heavy on the fat, fits in with the marketing of natural foods that are processed less.

The body has a hard time recognizing and digesting a product that has been processed multiple times, Miller said.

"When you introduce a product in its natural state, the body recognizes it and can digest it with no problem," Miller said. "People are starting to try to go back to their roots in food."

Trickling Springs was largely unaffected when one of its suppliers in January sold tainted raw milk from the farm. Eventually unpasteurized milk from the Family Cow in Scotland was blamed for 78 cases of campylobacteriosis in four states. It was the Pennsylvania's largest outbreak of illness related to raw milk in at least five years.

"They have been very open with the problem, what they were doing to fix it and moving forward," Miller said.

A few chefs had questions about the issue.

"We made it clear we support the Family Cow," Miller said. "We explained that our pasteurization kills any pathogens. They moved on. We didn't hear anything more. The only effect during the recall was that we had extra milk to process."

The company has ramped up production and expanded storage. Hiring 10 full- and part-time employees in 2001, Trickling Springs currently employs 60. Floor space has more than doubled.

"At the beginning of 2010 we ran out of capacity," Miller said. "We couldn't do more unless we expanded. We took a look at it. The demand was there."

Mass production allows a producer to be more efficient, and most companies focus on efficiency at the expense of their product, Miller said. Trickling Springs stayed with its original churning process and small batches.

"We did not want to lose what made us who we are," Miller said.

He has a rapport with celebrity chefs, writers who report on the food industry and owners of mom-and-pop restaurants from central Virginia to Pittsburgh and New York City.

"People in the artisan, natural foods, organic industry are more than willing to lend a hand," he said.

Trickling Springs plans to stay artisan and to stay local. No franchises are on the horizon, although a second creamery store is to open six blocks from the nation's Capitol in September. And there will be new ventures in ice cream and cheese.

"We're a regional company, and we love our local neighborhood," Miller said.

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