When her youngest child graduated high school, it effectively ended Liz Neadow’s tenure as home school teacher. Consequently, choices confronted the long-time stay-at-home mother.
Among them, what would she do with her new-found freedom? And what would should do with the menagerie of farm animals her kids had amassed over their collective 20 years in 4-H?
For Neadow, whose matter-of-factness and unassuming manner belie her passion and the magnitude of her venture, the choice was obvious.
“It was either get rid of the animals and go into the workplace after being a mom and homeschooling for 33 years,” she said before pausing. “I decided to try to make a business instead.”
That fateful decision led to the establishment of a micro-dairy sited on a 20-acre slice of earth in Barker, New York. Doing business as Teacup Farm, Neadow now produces whole milk, cream, chocolate milk, yogurt, cheese curds, feta, and chevre from a small bevy of Jersey cows and goats, her children’s 4-H animals and their descendants. Their pet-like names—Miracle, Prince Charming, and Cupcake, to name a few—hint at the family’s affection for their herd.
But affection alone doesn’t make for standout milk. Most of Neadow’s offerings, and all of the products she sells wholesale to retailers like Dispenza’s Meat Market in Ransomville, Farmers & Artisans in Snyder, The Olive Branch in Batavia, and Natural Link in Lewiston, are low-temperature pasteurized to destroy potentially harmful pathogens. That means they are sterilized at a relatively gentle 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
In comparison, macro-dairy milk, the sort ubiquitous to grocery stores, is either flash pasteurized at 161.6 degrees for 15 seconds or ultra-pasteurized at 280 degrees for two seconds to further extend shelf life.
Because large dairies are processing milk in staggering volume, quicker albeit more aggressive pasteurization is advantageous. Time is money, after all. But proponents of the lower temperature method, like Neadow, contend that the cost in quality outweighs the benefits of efficiency.
Intense heat destroys at least some of milk’s nutritional value and inactivates the enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of lactose and other compounds into simple sugars by the human body.
By preserving milk’s enzymatic and vitamin profiles, Neadow and those who share her principles believe they are putting a more wholesome, easier-to-digest product to market.
Neadow also believe it tastes better than regular milk, which she describes as flavorless, save for the unmistakable savor of cardboard or plastic, depending on the container in which it’s sold. Andrew Trautman, co-owner of Remedy House in Buffalo, agrees.
“I tried [Teacup] milk and fell in love with it, especially once I started using it for espresso. It’s far superior to anything else I’ve had.”
Coming from Trautman, who meticulously researched and tested every component of Remedy House’s espresso program prior to its November open, that’s saying a lot.
He chalks up Teacup’s superiority to Neadow’s low-temperature method, minimal processing, and the speed with which it gets to market. In contrast to milk produced by big dairy, which degrades in the weeks it takes to reach consumers, Teacup milk goes from udder to latte in a matter of days. According to Trautman, “it’s the pinnacle of freshness.”
Trautman also hails Teacup’s whole milk for its higher, non-homogenized fat content. He pegs it at five percent versus conventional whole milk’s three and a half. When milk is steamed and frothed, that small difference yields more microfoam—a finer, more texturally pleasant caliber of bubbles that blends better with espresso, engendering a creamy sensation in the mouth.
In melding more seamlessly with espresso, Teacup milk also more thoroughly counteracts its natural bitterness.
These features—gentle processing, freshness, and fat content—contribute to Teacup milk’s intriguing flavor profile, which Trautman describes as buttery or grassy even, depending on the time of year.
Neadow says that’s nothing compared to the taste of Teacup’s raw cow and goat milk, which her family has been drinking for as long as her children have shown dairy cattle. It’s still the only milk she drinks.
“I’m spoiled, I guess. Nothing tastes as good as raw milk.”
Unlike her low-temperature pasteurized products, raw milk is not heated at all, which advocates believe comes with health benefits. Raw milk is nutrient-dense, alive with beneficial bacteria, and swimming with immunoglobulins and antibodies that promote digestive health and strengthen the immune system, they say.
The Center for Disease Control disagrees. According to its official stance, raw milk should be avoided due to increased risk of illness-causing pathogens like listeria and Brucella. But the decision to allow sales of raw milk is left to the states, and in New York it is lawful with proper licensing.
Teacup Farm has been selling raw milk since 2007. But unlike its low-temperature pasteurized products, its raw milk cannot be purchased in stores or consumed in coffee houses. That’s because state regulations insist consumers buy raw milk at the farm where the milking occurred. The state also inspects raw milk farms monthly and subjects the cows and milk to regular pathogen testing. Unlike cattle in conventional dairies, cows that supply raw milk for human consumption cannot show signs of disease.
Neadow’s raw milk comes in half and full gallon sizes, and customers are asked to call ahead to ensure availability. When an order for raw milk is placed, Neadow leaves it labeled in the refrigerator inside Teacup’s on-premises, honor system store. There, visitors to the farm can also procure low-temperature pasteurized offerings as well as assorted local sundries like honey, soap, jam, and dried flowers. A collection box serves as the store's sole cashier, so cash and exact change is advisable.
As for raw milk’s somewhat contentious rap, Neadow acknowledges and respects the difference of opinion. But many consumables carry risk of contamination, she counters, pointing to the spate of recalls that have plagued our food system in recent years.
Not that she is trying to convince anyone to drink raw milk. When asked how she might convince someone who is apprehensive to try raw milk, she said she would prefer to only sell to a willing, educated consumer.
“I am not going to sell them on it. It has to be something they want for their own reasons.”
For Neadow, that sort of self-determination is paramount. Choice and autonomy have gotten her this far.
“You can buy raw meat and not cook it if you want to,” she said. “I like that freedom. Likewise, you can buy raw milk. It's our freedom to decide what we want.”