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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Top Billin'

“MC am I people call me Milk
When I'm bustin up a party I feel no guilt”
–Audio Two
As a kid milk was the liquid equivalent of broccoli or lima beans: more chore than treat, a means to an end (“grow up big and strong”) rather than a pleasure-in-itself (“makin' bacon”). Mercifully, good reader, age occasionally begets wisdom. Not only have I come to appreciate dairy, I've become a bonafide enthusiast. And I attribute much of this new-found zeal to a single source: an upstart organic Hudson Valley farm that produces arguably the best glass of milk to be had in the city.

They go by the curious name of Milk Thistle.
Putting Ronnybrook to shame: Dante Hesse models his real-deal Chocolate Milk

Milk Thistle is a family farm true and thru. Their story began when Dante Hesse (no relation to Alighieri, Hermann) purchased a plot of semi-abandoned land in Ghent, NY about three years back and set to work: renovating barns and fences, installing a milk house, plumbing and electricity, bringing in a herd of Jerseys. After a stint of hard labor he milked his first cow in 2006, and began bottling this past January.

This was, and is, a strictly home-grown operation: “free range cows and kids,” one sign reads. Almost everything is done in-house (Dante employs only one non-Hesse), including the elegant logo (the work of his sister Angelica, a graphic designer based in Portland). So when you purchase his products you always know where and from whom it comes.
Compared with fellow greenmarket staple Ronnybrook, Milk Thistle may seem a tad lackadaisical. They offer only a half-dozen products in very small quantities, and scribble prices on a dry-erase board. But don't let the shy hippie milkman routine fool you. This dairy is the product of extremely hard work and savvy, brawn and brains alike. It's also a milk with decided substance; philosophy, even. Look closer at the heavy glass bottles and you'll notice the discreet Rudolf Steiner quote that lends insight into Dante's farming logic: “In its essential nature, a farm is a self-contained individuality.” In addition to being certified organic, and antibiotic- and hormone-free, Milk Thistle is guided by the tenets of “biodynamic” agriculture. Everything needed to run the farm (feed, compost, etc.) comes from the farm. Think of it as a self-sufficient milking ecosystem.

The results are harmonious and delicious both. Light pasteurization and non-homogenization lace the odd sip with a discreet nugget of cream. And those Jersey cows – chosen for their high cream content – milk something far sweeter than the competition, with a great deal of character to boot. What is more, from spring until fall the animals feed exclusively on grass. This green diet yields a far richer product than winter hay, so the milk's flavor actually develops with the seasons. As such, Milk Thistle's dairy stays fresh – in both senses of the word – year-round.

I assume thistles are involved at some point, and may even add to the milk's flavor. But I couldn't tell and don't really care. It doesn't matter; the final product sings for itself. So whether you are a dairy enthusiast, or love all things farm fresh, or simply find the phrase “cream on top” arousing, head on down and taste why all this fuss is deserved.

What more can I say?To support Milk Thistle and rediscover the Joy of Milking, catch them at the following Greenmarkets:
  • Fridays at Union Square
  • Saturdays at Grand Army Plaza (Brooklyn) and Inwood (Uptown Manhattan)
  • Sundays at Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn) and Columbia University/Morningside Heights
  • Half-gallons of Whole, 2% and Skim are $5.50; quarts are $3.25. Chocolate is $3.75 a quart and $2.50 a pint. Half-and-half is $2.75 a pint.
  • Look for heavy cream and, possibly, coffee milk sometime down the road.
When you go, keep in mind:
  • Milk Thistle currently only milks around thirty cows, which means this stuff sells out. So if you mosey on down too late you might be stuck with 2% or (gasp) skim.
  • Their whole milk makes the richest biscuits and the most tender crepes. And their Chocolate Milk makes Ronnybrook taste like YooHoo. (Not that there's anything wrong with YooHoo.)
  • Because it is so fresh, this milk keeps way longer than a supermarket gallon. Just make sure you have a cold fridge.
Last but not least, impress your friends with these Fun Milk Facts:
  • Milk comes out of the cow at body temperature. (Makes sense, right?)
  • Some chimpanzee in a lab coat scientist said something about whole milk being better for your health and blahblahblah than skim or low-fat. It's also been proven to give you more fluid hip motion on the dancefloor, whilst promoting thick mustaches and smooth chests (and vice-versa).
  • In the Middle Ages, milk was often called by its Late Antiquity Visigoth diminutive kreamteetenmeinlaffenmouth, which roughly translates as “happy is the mouth to be taking a robust sip from the teet of life.”



Anonymous colleen said...

I really would like to support Milk Thistle more, but so wish that they would consider doing a 1-percent variety.

10:18 AM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

1%... (sigh.) the 'chop can only endorse full fat! but you can always buy quarts of 2% and skim and mix your own. if you're fancy like that.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Asad said...

My dear Slab, I shall be patronizing the Thistle starting nowly. Thankee!

Establishments such as this one give me hope that we might one day overturn the sad tyranny of enforced pasteurization in this once-great cheese nation.

12:00 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

nice, just watch out asad... it's habit forming.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Lee Mazzola said...

Delicious... like suckling at the teat of the nurse-goat Amaltheia.

10:19 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

lee mazz brings the buttery slick metaphor. apropos too. last week was super she-goaty, due to milk thistle's cows having grazed on thick new pastors; that grassy taste went straight to the milk. much sweeter this week, but so goes the farm fresh experience...

5:18 PM  
Blogger Nathan Kensinger said...

Yo! Nice piece. Small world: my good friend Doug - a talented cheesemaker from a farm near Dante - often works the Milk Thistle stand on Fridays in Union Square... I've been over there several times to lend moral support (and to drink their excellent chocolate milk).

8:10 PM  
Blogger Dione said...

Tried Milk Thistle's milk for the first time today and it is AMAZING! I usually buy Tonjes farm at Union Square or Organic Valley if I miss the markets. I also have had raw milk in California from Organic Pastures. Milk Thistle's is much creamier than these and good enough if you miss having raw milk in NY. :) And the $1 deposit is worth the chill the glass bottle keeps (plus it's cute!).

FYI- Inwood is NOT in Queens!! We are located in the scenic northern-most part of Manhattan- the Saturday Greenmarket is located at Isham St. between Seaman and Cooper. Cheers!

9:46 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Do the states price regulations apply to Thistle? If so, why not?

5:03 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

dione -- tks for the Inwood catch! all fixed, no offense to uptown intended. and yes, i absolutely agree - Cream Rules Everything Around Me. glad you took the plunge...

5:33 PM  
Anonymous grisellemakeupartist said...


9:20 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

gris, if you like that check out the momofuku milk bar -- they use milk thistle for their own in-house concoctions, like strawberry milk. mmmmm... strawberry milk. it's even better than "YooHoo"

1:38 PM  

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