If you drive north on the 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge, head through the Robin Williams tunnel and continue on for a while you notice a few things. The grey concrete starts to give way to rolling green hills. Mattress superstores give way to lolling herds of cattle. The fat five-lane freeway (so California) starts to narrow, first to four lanes then three lanes then down to two, a regular little highway you’d find anywhere in America. And here, about an hour north of San Francisco, sits Petaluma: gold mining town turned agricultural town turned idyllic small-town-living-right-outside-the-city. This is the kind of town that hosts an annual “Egg & Butter Festival,” and this is ground zero of the milk in our lattes, Saint Benot Creamery.
Getting to Saint Benoît Creamery is a lesson in the limits of modern technology: all of our map apps gave up at a lonely row of mailboxes. We had to swing off the highway just past there, drive over not one or two but three “cattle guards” (little grids in the roads that cows won’t cross), and finally through an actual pasture. Remember those old California milk commercials? “California means happy cows”? Well, this is that place, but for real: huge swaths of grass with a wide blue sky and lazy, fat white clouds. Cows stood obstinately in our way, blocking the road, and only reluctantly moved after a couple of horn honks.
The Benoît of “Saint Benoît” strode to meet our car as it idled stupidly in the middle of his pasture. Benoît de Korsak is a smiling beanpole of a man with a cute French accent (if you like that kind of thing) who moved with his family to California in 2003. Hairnets and shoe-booties in hand, he was ready to give us the grand tour of his creamery… that took all of 15 minutes. The largest of the three modest buildings, where the bottling happens, is no bigger than a suburban living room. The actual bottling machine is about as large as a ping-pong table. (Again, think suburban living room.) There are also a couple of storages to ferment yogurt, a small room for lid sealing, and a refrigeration building. That’s it.
Less waste, more good stuff
Waste is a bummer. St. Benoît feeds his expired yogurt to the farm’s goats and pigs, giving them a healthier-than-usual diet. So no waste there. Also: since the farm’s beginnings in 2004, his container program has kept over two million plastic yogurt cups out of the landfill. Stacked side-to-side, that’s enough plastic yogurt cups to go to Jupiter and back.* Our milk is served from glass bottles that St. Benoît sanitizes and reuses, bypassing disposable plastic bottles altogether. Blammo.
Say goodbye to gurgle guts
Different cows make different milk. The staggering majority of conventional milk comes from Holstein cows, whose milk is rich in A1 protein. We know that you probably don’t know what that is and we don’t really, either, but there is an emerging body of research suggesting that lactose intolerance could actually be a dairy allergy. This allergy involves an inability to digest this A1 protein, which is most often found in milk from high-producing Holstein cows.
St. Benoît exclusively raises Jersey cows. Jersey cows produce a higher concentration of a different protein: A2. A2 milk is significantly easier for our bodies to digest. In fact, to those who might consider themselves dairy sensitive, we say: give Benoît a whirl. We’re lacto-sensitive ourselves and we’ve been chugging this stuff for weeks.
Benoît knows his limits. He offers only whole Jersey cow milk–no nonfat. He knows that distributing his milk too far from the farm would require him to pump it with all sorts of preservative junk, so he doesn’t. And if you say “hyper-local” with a French accent, it’s pronounced “ee-pair locale.”
It’s less… weird
Conventional dairies do funky stuff to their milk. They dump it into centrifuges and remove all fat content, then re-introduce that fat to hit certain FDA requirements–even a lot of “cream top” milk. St. Benoît’s milk contains a deliciously higher butterfat content than most conventional whole milks exactly because he doesn’t do this to his milk. St. Benoît only offers unmolested, pure, un-screwed-with, libido-energizing** whole milk, lovingly excreted from the healthy teats of happy, well-fed Jersey cows, whist Prince and David Bowie play in the background.
Cows are people, too
A lot of people have no problem drinking milk from mutated cows stuffed in tiny stalls with foreign hormones coursing through their engorged udders. It’s a plain fact of the modern world. Benoît’s farm is a happy exception. Resting on the northwest side of the Petaluma hills, St. Benoît Farms is cow heaven. (Cows love hills.) The location also plays a part in the milk’s tastiness; the farm’s proximity to the coast means that as the fog rolls in, it hits the pasture grass in the morning, keeping the grass greener longer than most other farms. Healthy green grass is extraordinary for the cows’ digestive health, and that makes for even tastier milk. It feels good to know that animals don’t have to be abused for us to enjoy life’s small luxuries.
Small but agile
At least until the glorious revolution and subsequent utopia occurs, environmental responsibility starts and ends with business. We know Four Barrel is still sort of the Little Guy–we aren’t owned by a secretive German company or an international corporation–but being the Little Guy gives us the flexibility to do things better than the Big Guys. Partnering with St. Benoît Creamery is a big step in our long-term commitment to responsible sourcing and the planet earth and we couldn’t be prouder and happier and it also is the yummiest thing since… espresso.***
**Also not true
***We like espresso