Patterson Family Farm in Auburn, NY

Do you know where your milk comes from? I do.

No, this isn’t a joke with a cute answer (“duh, a cow,” or worse yet, “duh, the store”). I mean, how does it get from the cow to the store to you? The process may surprise you.

On a recent weekend in New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes region, I followed the entire process of milk production. Visiting the Patterson Family Farm in Auburn, NY, we met the sixth generation of the Patterson family, which started dairy farming in 1832. Beginning with just 100 cows, they now have over 1,200 Holsteins. They also grow their own feed on 2,500 acres (corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, grass, and hay). It’s a huge operation with 30 full-time employees, growing to 45 during harvest.

But their main focus is the health and well-being of their “girls.” These cows are treated like VIPs – the best feed (each cow eats 130 pounds per day!), freedom to roam around the barn, soft beds, automated brushing stations, and Afi tag pedometers to measure their exercise. Imagine a bovine spa resort!

One of the highlights of the farm visit was meeting the day-old calves, which were so cute and friendly. What a treat it was to be able to bottle-feed them!

Calves at the Patterson Dairy Farm
Calves at the Patterson Dairy Farm

Owners Jon and Julie Patterson are part of an innovative group of central New York dairy farmers who invested in and own the newly opened, state-of-the-art Cayuga Milk Ingredients (CMI) plant, which was the next stop on our tour.

Opened in June, after a two-year build, this is a one-of-a-kind, $101 million milk processing facility, and I was one of the first bloggers to tour it. The plant uses the latest technology to separate high quality milk into high quality components that are added to other products to boost nutritional value. They remove the water from the milk to produce dry ingredients, extending the shelf life to up to 18 months, meaning that ingredients produced today can be feeding children in South America and the Middle East in a short amount of time.

CMI processes 2.6 million pounds of milk trucked in every day from the area’s 36,000 cows. Just to put this into perspective, it takes nine pounds of milk to create one gallon!

Some of the products that come from CMI are skim milk, condensed milk, cream, and protein powders. In fact, CMI is only the third plant in the world that can make a 90% protein powder. In the future, they hope to produce infant formula as well.

The plant is totally computer-operated, and it takes only six to nine people to run the entire operation. Obviously, there is a heavy focus on bio-security. We had to don paper lab coats, hairnets, and booties for the tour (we were oh-so-attractive!) and were not allowed to take any pictures. (Plant photos were provided.)

CMI's plant tour
CMI’s plant tour

After lunch at our hotel, Geneva on the Lake, we were off to the next logical progression in our dairy tour: a cooking class at the New York Wine & Culinary Center to create some delicious dairy-based dishes. Opened in 2006, the center was built to as a place where the people of New York and visitors to the area could learn about and enjoy the delicious foods and wines of the region. Besides a well-equipped kitchen classroom for a wide range of culinary interests, the center boasts a restaurant, a Wine Spectator educational center, a wine tasting room, and a culinary boutique. It is quite impressive.

Chef Jeffory McLean (or “Cheffory,” as they call him), lead instructor at the center, divided our group into teams and gave us directions for our recipes. My husband and I were assigned Inside-Out Poutine. If you are not familiar with it, poutine is the Canadian dish consisting of cheese curds, French fries, and brown gravy that is slowly sweeping the U.S. (a poutine restaurant has just opened in Chicago). Having never tried cheese curds, I was a little skeptical, but after Cheffory explained it, I was on board. The basic premise is as follows: you take a bit of mashed potatoes in your hand and form a hollow. Insert a small portion of a cheese curd (we used a spicy Buffalo wing flavor), add more mashed potatoes to form a ball. Dip into an egg wash, roll in Panko crumbs, and deep fry.

Cheese Curds for Inside Out Poutine
Cheese curds for Inside-Out Poutine

They were awesome! These would make a fabulous Super Bowl snack. Other teams at the class made a crudité platter with yogurt dipping sauce, Parmesan cups filled with a terrific pulled chicken topped with sour cream, and for dessert brownie cups filled with vanilla ice cream. A great night cooking with new friends in a beautiful facility!

Inside Out Poutine
Inside-Out Poutine: the final result!

So now you know, like I do, the milk’s journey from the cow to the processing plant to the table. Next time you pick up a gallon of milk, a quart of ice cream, protein powder, or some yogurt, think about the long trip it’s taken to get to your store shelf.

The results of a cooking class as part of my tour
Crudité with handmade yogurt dip

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council (ADADC) is a non-profit nutrition education organization funded by dairy producers in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Thanks to the ADADC for this informative, educational, fun, and delicious weekend!

All photos courtesy of Katie Becker Photography.

Terry Krongold is a life-long, passionate baker. In addition to a full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry, Terry has been involved with food for many years, including co-ownership of a dessert catering company in the late eighties called I Love Cheesecake, specializing in fine cheesecake and unique desserts. Terry is the author of The Cook’s Tour, a blog focused on food, baking, and travel. When not working, writing, or baking, she spends time planning vacations around restaurants to visit. She can be reached at