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When and why was Maple Hill Creamery founded?

Maple Hill Creamery was founded in 2009 with the simple desire to make the healthiest yogurt we could for our kids, using certified organic milk from our own 100% grass-fed family cows (read more about our journey and philosophy). 
 

Over the past few years, we’ve grown from a completely family-run operation to a thriving small manufacturer of whole milk, European-style yogurt. Although we’ve brought on production, sales, and marketing staff, everyone in the family still pitches in on a daily basis, and are central to decisions big and small.  

Running a 100% grass-fed dairy production company means that we’re not solely focused on the bottom line—or having the most shelf space in the yogurt aisle. To us, business “success” is also defined by a company’s values and production practices. We believe that when we use milk from only certified organic, 100% grass-fed cows to make our products, we are supporting and growing a food system that is most beneficial to the land, the animals, and the farmers—and that it makes for the most authentic cup of yogurt around!  

What are 100% grass-fed cows?

Cows that are 100% grass-fed graze when the grasses and other native plants grow, and eat hay (stored grass) in the winter months--oftentimes harvested from same pastures they graze on.

Unlike most dairy cows in the United States, 100% grass-fed cows aren’t fed corn, grain, soy, alfalfa pellets, corn silage, or manufacturing by-products. They aren’t kept in barns or crowded feedlots, with little to no access to pasture. We believe that 100% grass-fed dairy cows have a distinctly better quality of life and longer lifespan than most dairy cows. Unfortunately for cows and consumers, less than 1% of the dairy cows in the US are able to claim the 100% grass-fed title.  

What are the main differences between feeding cows a mixed ration of grain-based feed, and 100% grass-feeding?

Simply put, when dairy farmers choose to raise cows with managed grazing techniques, and when cows are fed the diet they evolved to eat, the end result is healthier animals, healthier farms, and healthier dairy products.  

Let’s start with the cows, which are by definition ruminants. They have a four-chambered stomach called the rumen, which is designed to digest fibrous grasses and other plants. When grain and corn (quickly-digested carbohydrates with much less fiber) is fed to cows, it changes the pH of the rumen, making it more acidic and changing the normal, healthy gut flora of the cow. This can result in infection, inflammation, bloat, decreased immunity, and a host of other health issues and chronic diseases.  Cows were meant to eat grass—not grain or corn. 

Next is the farm operation itself. Managed grazing requires less fossil fuels, because the feed is not grown, processed, and shipped to the farm—the food is already there, growing, and is eaten by the cows in a rotation that keeps the grasslands healthy and growing. Growing corn and grain specifically for cattle feed uses huge amounts of non-renewable resources, and, unless certified organic, chemical pesticides as well. 

 

On a grass-fed operation, the cow's manure is spread over the pastures, helping replace nutrients lost by the growing plants. Farms with managed grazing have less erosion and nutrient run off due to the fact that the permanent grasslands bind the soil and absorb the nutrients deposited by the cows (manure!)  In addition the process of managed grazing fixes carbon in the soil increasing the overall fertility and productivity of the land. 
 
And finally, the end product: milk. The lipid (fat) profile of 100% grass-fed milk is healthier than that of cows fed corn and grain, with a balanced omega 3-to-6 ratio, and dramatically increased levels of CLA, Vitamin A and Vitamin E. In short, it’s free of many negative processing effects of the industrialized food system. 

Why do most dairy farmers choose to feed their cows a non-grass-based diet?

“Conventional Wisdom” says that feeding dairy cows grain and corn increases milk production and therefore the farmer’s bottom line.  Perhaps this was the case 50 – 60 years ago, but unfortunately for most farmers this no longer appears to be true.  Many family farms (both conventional and certified organic) are stuck on a treadmill--feeding high priced grain and corn to their cows while trying to produce more milk, to cover ever higher rising bills, with an ever-shrinking milk check.

When did farmers start feeding grain to an animal that was really built for grass? And why?

As in most things, one thing always leads to another. And “the thing” that probably put American agriculture on the path to feeding grain to ruminants had nothing to do with agriculture, but more to do with war, specifically WWII.

Prior to WWII, most US farms were small and diversified. Cattle were put out to pasture and supplemented with very little if any grain or corn, as their natural place in a diversified farm was to consume grass. WWII expansion of munitions manufacturing, which included the explosive component of nitrogen. When peacetime arrived, there were many products and technologies from the war effort “looking for a home.” Nitrogen found its home in agriculture, setting off the first “green revolution”--that was not so green in the end. With cheap and available nitrogen (one of the three synthetic fertilizers that for the N-P-K triad we still see on lawn fertilizers today) farmers could grow grain and corn crops much more quickly, and the American farmer could now “feed the world” – as well as its cows. The focus and the race towards higher yield and ever increasing crop production began, and feeding cows this now inexpensive grain and corn did as well. A grain-based diet for dairy cows became the norm, and the prevailing opinion—for quite some time—has been that any dairy farmer who attempted to raise their dairy cows on grass only was crazy—it couldn’t be done, and that “you can’t make milk with just grass”.

Well, we may be a little nutty at Maple Hill, but this opinion couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re adding more 100% grass-fed dairy NY state farms every few months, and making a little bit more yogurt each step of the way, and supporting a farming system that keeps long-term wellness of the animals and land at the forefront.  

How do I know if I am getting 100% grass fed dairy products?

Currently, there is no provision or certification system for grass-fed dairy labeling in the US. As the popularity of grass-fed dairy products grows, more and more companies will use a "grass-fed" claim on their labels. However, with no guidelines for dairy products in place, a “grass-fed” label claim can be placed on a product that is 90% grain-fed. In short, "grass-fed" is at risk of becoming empty marketing jargon, much like "natural" has in the consumer packaged goods industry.

Maple Hill and Pennsylvania Certified Organic are spearheading the creation of the first-ever certification guidelines and labeling initiative for 100% grass-fed dairy producers and dairy processors. In essence the certification will provide third- party verification and traceability from field to yogurt cup. We believe that consumers who choose grass-fed dairy products should get what they're paying for. We also want to protect the integrity of grass farmers, and educate consumers on the differences between conventional dairy and 100% grass-fed dairy.

Most importantly, we believe in label transparency and hope to build trust between 100% grass-fed dairy producers and consumers.

Where can I learn more about 100% grass-fed dairy farming?

Please check out our “Why Grass?” infographic to learn about the huge impact 100% grass fed organic farming can have on animals, food systems, farm families, and the environment.  
 
Great resources for finding 100% grass-fed dairy products and other information about the benefits of pastured and grass farming include the Weston A. Price foundation and EatWild.com.  

Is ALL the milk used to make Maple Hill Creamery yogurt from 100% grass-fed cows?

Yes! Every drop of milk used to make our yogurt is from 100% grass-fed cows. Our farms pledge to keep their cows on pasture only in the grazing season, and fed only hay and some minerals in the winter.

Is your yogurt organic?

Yes, our yogurt is certified USDA and PCO organic. 

Why don't you make low-fat or non-fat products? Isn't fat bad for you?

The milk fat from 100% grass-fed cows is very different from the fat from cows fed corn and grain. It has a balanced omega 3 to omega 6 ratio. Milk from cows fed a traditional ration of hay, corn, and grain have a ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 of up to 5:1 (5 parts Omega 6 to 1 part Omega 3). This imbalance and higher level of Omega 6 fats has been conclusively linked to a number of inflammatory and chronic diseases in humans. Feeding cows their diet of grass, and nothing but grass, the ratio returns to closer to 1:1, which happens to be the ratio that is optimal for health in humans.

In addition to a healthy Omega 3-6 balance, the milk from 100% grass-fed cows has higher levels of Vitamin E and Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A), as well as markedly higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—a good fatty acid that has been linked to many health benefits.

This leads us to what we call our "Salmon Analogy". Wild salmon is a fish rich with naturally-occurring heart-healthy Omega- 3 fats. If it were possible to produce or create “low fat” or “skim” salmon, it would probably taste bad, but more importantly “skim salmon” would have a large portion of the food value removed, as the majority of the benefits would be removed along with the fat. Would you eat "Skim Salmon"?  

Avoiding full-fat dairy products has long been lauded as a "healthy" lifestyle choice. However, reduced-fat and non-fat dairy products are highly processed, and the long-followed advice of eating a low-fat diet for health is beginning to unravel in the reality of the obesity epidemic. Moreover, the fat found in 100% grass fed milk is beneficial to health. So, we don't have to take anything out of our milk to make it "healthier".

In short, we believe in eating the whole food, in its most natural form, especially when it's been produced in a way that sidesteps the "advances" of the industrial food system.   

What is the creamline in your yogurt? Why is it there?

The “cream on top” of our yogurt is a layer of milk fat that rises as the yogurt cools and settles during our slow culturing process. This occurs naturally when milk is NOT homogenized (an unnecessary cosmetic step in dairy processing that we choose to skip). Sometimes the cream on top of your cup may be broken instead of smooth, due to jostling or slight temperature changes during shipping. It's still perfectly fine to eat--just stir it in and enjoy.  
 
If you're enjoy Maple Hill year-round, you'll notice that the creamline's appearance changes with the seasons. In the summer, it's thinner and golden-hued (due to the higher Vitamin A content); in the winter it's thicker and lighter in color. The cows' diets change throughout the year, from spring grass to lush summer pasture to organic hay in the winter, and these changes are reflected in the milk they produce. 100% grass-fed dairy is a seasonal food! 
 
Our creamline is the hallmark of a minimally processed, artisanal yogurt. The 100% grass-fed milk from our farms is so delicious and so healthy, we don't need to do much with it to make really good yogurt.

Is your milk pasteurized?

Yes, our milk is pasteurized using standard legal pasteurization techniques. In fact, true yogurt can only be made with milk that has been heated to a high temperature, by breaking down proteins and then "reassembling" into the semi-solid product we call yogurt.

However, we fully support the right of consumers to purchase and consume raw dairy products, and we believe that raw milk can be safe and has many inherent health benefits that can be cancelled out by pasteurization. Our friends at the Weston A. Price foundation have great resources and information about the benefits of raw milk. 

What farms does your milk come from?

As of the autumn season of 2013, we have seven family farms, all within 75 miles from our manufacturing facility in Stuyvesant, New York. About half of our farms are Amish farms. Please visit Our Farms if you're interested in learning more about these dedicated grass farmers, their families, and their amazing cows.

Are there any allergens in your yogurt or manufactured in your facility?

Our manufacturing plant is a dedicated dairy processing facility and is free of the following common food allergens: soy, nuts, tree nuts, peanuts, gluten, and shellfish.

As of September 2013, we are in the process of obtaining our Certified Gluten Free certification.
 

Are you Kosher?

Yes, our yogurt is certified OU Kosher.  

How do you flavor the non-plain yogurt varieties?

We flavor our Vanilla, Lemon, and Orange Crème varieties with real, organic extracts (rather than “natural” flavors that are often made with petrochemicals to cheaply replicate the real thing). All of our extracts are made using grain alchohol dervied from organic wheat (not corn). However, there are no glutens left after the distillation process / is gluten-free. 

We use only real organic, real maple syrup in our Maple flavor, and wild
 blueberry puree in our Wild Blueberry variety.  

Your yogurt isn't very sweet! Is it low sugar?

We don't add much sugar to our yogurt, as we believe any sweetener or flavor should subtly enhance the zingy, fresh flavor of Maple Hill, not mask it. We also believe in transparency in food labeling, so here’s a helpful breakdown for added sugar in our yogurt: 

In each six-ounce serving of Maple Hill, 8 grams of the carbohydrate content come from the naturally occurring lactose in the milk. The remaining grams of carbohydrate content come from added organic sugar, pure maple syrup, fruit puree, or combination thereof.

We add the equivalent of 2.6 teaspoons (11 grams) of sugar to our Vanilla, Lemon, and Orange Crème flavors (each totals 17 - 18 grams of carbohydrates).

We add the equivalent of 2.85 teaspoons of pure maple syrup to our Maple flavor (18 grams of carbohydrates total). We use only maple syrup to sweeten and flavor this variety. 

We add the equivalent of 2.6 teaspoons (11grams) of sugar to our Wild Blueberry flavor, with the 3 grams of carbohydrates coming from the berry puree (22 grams of carbohydrate total). 

By comparison, most other natural and organic yogurts on the market have an average of 3.75 – 5.75 grams of added sugar per six-ounce serving. Highly-processed, conventional brands are even higher. 

Why is your yogurt so tangy / earthy tasting?

Maple Hill is a “yogurt eater’s yogurt”: fresh, zingy, tart, and a distinctly stronger flavor than most yogurt sold in the U.S., because of our milk and our culture process.

100% grass-fed, non-homogenized milk is a seasonal food. Unlike the milk from conventional cows, grass-fed milk changes throughout the year, and the flavor of the milk, as well as the fat content and composition. When cows eat a variety of grass and other plants, instead of grain or corn, there is a marked difference in the flavor of the milk.

So, in essence, what you’re tasting is the grass that the cows munched on. In the summer the flavor is often more “earthy”, and in the winter months, the creamline layer is thicker and the flavor sweeter.
 We also favor a longer, slower culturing process than most yogurt brands, allowing the flavor to develop more before cooling. You can’t rush yogurt this good!

Do you add any thickeners or stabilizers to your yogurt?

Nope. We don’t add guar gum, milk protein powder, pectin, carrageenan, or other commonly used yogurt additives that 95% of US yogurt manufacturers add to their products. Maple Hill’s luxuriously creamy texture is the result of our slow culture process and our high-quality, full-fat, 100% grass-fed milk.  

Do you add any preservatives to your yogurt?

No, we never add any preservatives to our yogurt.

What cultures are added to your yogurt?

We use the following cultures: Bifidobacterium lactis, lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp., Bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus.  

What is the difference between your regular yogurt and drinkable yogurt?

The yogurt inside our 6-ounce cups and our 12-ounce drinkable container is exactly the same. We offer the 12-ounce drinkable for convenience, portability, and sharing.
Shake well and enjoy!
 

Is your yogurt GMO-free?

Yes, our yogurt is free from GMOs. Most organic dairy processors can circumvent GMOs by obtaining milk from farmers who purchase and feed their cows only organic grains (in addition to the 30% grazing requirement for certified organic dairy).

In contrast, we are free from GMOs simply because our farms' cows just eat the native grasses and plants found in NY state, and from what we've heard, Monsanto isn't interested in modifying
 Meadow Timothy or White Sweetclover as of yet.  

Where can I buy Maple Hill?

We’re pleased to say that we're quickly increasing our distribution throughout the US!
Check out our Store Locator to find a retailer near you. 

What is the shelf life of your yogurt?

The shelf life is 60 days from manufacture date, which is printed across the foil lid.  

How can I get Maple Hill in my store?

Maple Hill Creamery products can be ordered through several national as well as numerous regional distributors. Please send us an email at sales@maplehillcreamery.com for more information. 

©2014 Maple Hill Creamery LLC (all rights reserved)