Danzeisen Dairy Brings Single-Source Milk to Metro Phoenix

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I write a lot about coffee, but I feel like I've done Chow Bella readers a disservice. My tendency has been to focus on the terroir of coffee, on who produced it, on how it got to the cup in front of me. But how often have I asked (or answered) those same questions about milk? Its flavor attributes are every bit as dynamic as those of coffee, and its quality is equally - or maybe even more dependent- upon production methods, regional variations, and processing.

Also! Cattle is one of the "Five C's" of Arizona; Coffee, sadly, is not. So really, it's about time I gave a little love to coffee's favorite friend, milk. Which is easy to do, considering that metro Phoenix alone has a fantastic array of local dairy options to examine.

I started out on my quest by visiting Danzeisen Dairy in Laveen to see what makes their milk so special. Warning to the tenderhearted: This post is accompanied by many photographs of very adorable cows. Baby ones, even.

See also: Drew Scharnitzke of Cartel Coffee Lab on How to Brew Better Coffee at Home

Kevin Danzeisen likes cows, and always has. His grandfather founded Neil Viss Dairy in Laveen in 1968; when Kevin was a child, he loved visiting the operation. He began working in dairies in California as a teenager, and went on to study Animal Science at Fresno State University. In 2002 Kevin and his father, Clayton (a retired schoolteacher), took over the family business and renamed it Danzeisen Dairy.

For nearly 13 years the Danzeisens produced milk for sale to various cooperatives, but last fall they decided to switch things up. When selling to larger facilities, as Kevin puts it, "We didn't ever know what we were going to get paid for our milk. My passion was always the cows, but it was hard to invest in them without a stable source."

To counteract the instability of cooperative dairy farming, Danzeisen decided to become a single-source dairy in November of 2014. This means that they bottle milk from their cows and their cows alone, and sell it under their own label. Kevin appreciates the accountability of being single-source; before, he says, "we didn't really know what happened to the milk when we sold it to the coop."

Making the switch required a lot of things; equipment, for one thing, but also a sexy new image. Allow me to nerd out on their public image for a moment: Danzeisen's branding, orchestrated by Ideas Collide, is beautiful, cohesive, and 100% well-suited to the dairy's mission.

Back to the bottling: part of what makes Danzeisen's milk so stellar is their packaging. Hefty glass bottles house their products. Kevin chose glass for a reason. Part of it was environmental; after all, who isn't concerned with the amount of plastic getting thrown into the ocean every day? (Please don't answer that.) But part of their choice to use glass ties back to product quality. "Most {milk bottlers} blow the plastic bottles up right before use.It's hot to the touch just before they pour the {cold} milk in," says Kevin. "I don't have evidence, but that can't be good for the flavor. Glass helps keep the temperature stable." The dairy offers a $2 rebate for returned bottles, and perhaps more importantly, they always re-use the recycled (and sterilized) bottles first.

The Danzeisens commitment to sustainability extends to all segments of their business. Water from their bottling machinery is continually cleaned and re-used. Wastewater used for cleaning the floors or the outsides of their machinery can't be recycled, but is captured for use in controlling dust on the farm.

When purchasing machinery for their bottling plant, the family chose not to buy any new equipment. Instead, they opted for vintage machinery. This machinery is beautiful to look at, but also functions in an old-fashioned way. Kevin says that more modern mechanisms for removing milkfat separate out all of the components of the milk; lactose, proteins, and other nutrients are all removed, and must be re-added in various concentrations. Older equipment merely separates out the fat, which results in a more nutritionally rich non-fat milk.

At present, Danzeisen dairy has about 1100 cows, which is about half the herd size of the average Arizona dairy. These cows produce about 10,000 gallons of milk each day.

If you have any ethical qualms about how dairy cows are treated, I will say this: I witnessed Danzeisen's third and final milking of the day. Kevin was entirely transparent about the process, and no area of the facility was off limits. One farmhand gently tended to the entire herd during the milking. The cows filed willingly into the milking room, and lined themselves up in neat little rows without the use of any human or mechanical force. They were not restrained, and great care was taken to ensure that their udders were cleaned before and after lactation to prevent infection. When the milking was done, they filed out quietly and went back to their alfalfa, entirely unharmed by the process.

Danzeisen never uses growth hormones on their cows, but they will use antibiotics in the event that a cow becomes ill. This prevents them from becoming a certified organic dairy, but does help promote the health of their herd. In the event that a cow does need to receive antibiotics, that animal's milk is tested for antibiotic presence and discarded. A specialist visits the dairy once per month to balance the cows' nutritional intake. The primary component of their diet is Arizona-grown alfalfa, but it also may include hay, various mineral mixtures, or Pinal County distiller's grain.

I noticed that many of the cows were wearing little bracelets - as it turns out, these were electronic pedometers. These keep track of how many steps each cow takes per day, how long they lay, and how long they stand, which helps the Danzeisens monitor their overall health.

An increase in a cow's average number of daily steps can indicate that the animal is in heat. If this is the case, the dairy will attempt to artificially inseminate that cow. After all, cows have to make baby cows to make milk. Bulls born to the herd are raised in California for beef.

A note about baby cows: baby cows are just the best. Four calves had been born within one day of my visit; I watched one, still sticky from its mother, clumsily take its first steps, while another made its first "Moo."

This brings us to the milk itself. I never imagined that I'd find myself taking a milk flight, but writing for Chow Bella is always an adventure. Danzeisen currently offers Skim, 1%, 2%, and Whole milk, as well as heavy cream and several flavored 2% options. Their unflavored whole milk on its own is some of the best I've ever had; it was exceptionally sweet, and ever so slightly salty. And a tiny splash of their heavy cream is incredible in coffee.

Nindi Wadhwa, owner of Scooptacular, crafts Danzeisen's flavored milks. These include Strawberry, Arizona Orange, Root Beer, and of course, Chocolate. The Strawberry and Arizona Orange were a bit sweet for my liking, but undeniably delicious. The Root Beer milk was unexpectedly tasty, without being overbearingly sweet. And the chocolate milk was beyond compare.

Interested milk drinkers can purchase directly from the Danzeisen Dairy Store at 6024 West Southern Avenue in Laveen, or at AJ's Fine Foods stores throughout the Valley. Expect the milk to run about $5-6 per bottle. Bear in mind three things as you contemplate this pricing: 1. Danzeisen does offer a $2 rebate just for returning your bottle. 2. in purchasing from this dairy, you're supporting an incredibly transparent local family committed to sustainable farming. 3. This milk is so. freaking. good.

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