4/12/2014 7:00 AM
By Jamie Clark Tiralla Maryland Correspondent
The opening of Clover Hill Dairy in Mechanicsville has locavores rejoicing and has sparked hopes of reviving a dairy industry that hasn’t been seen in southern Maryland for more than 15 years.
Clover Hill Dairy was built from the ground up by the Amish community in St. Mary’s County. It took about four years for the dairy owners to get through the regulatory process, but in early March, they received their Manufacture Grade Permit from the Maryland Center for Milk Control.
The permit allows the dairy to produce cheese and butter using pasteurized milk. An Amish woman at the dairy said that, for now, they will just produce cheese. They currently are approved to sell cheddar, Monterey Jack and a Latin American curd cheese. Each recipe must be approved by the Center for Milk Control.
The dairy hopes to expand its selection in time.
The establishment of the dairy came as a response to increased consumer demand for local dairy products as well as the desire to capitalize on the value-added potential of the local dairy herds.
“Consumers are really looking for homegrown products. They want to know and meet the farmers who grow their food,” said Susan McQuilken, marketing executive for the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission.
McQuilken said the commission began working with dairy owners about three years ago to help navigate the regulatory process. The commission helped facilitate meetings and manage day-to-day communications between the dairy owners, government agencies and engineers.
“One of the biggest hurdles was to get approval from the Maryland Center for Milk Control to operate the dairy on direct current instead of standard electricity. They had to provide assurance that the equipment would operate flawlessly,” McQuilken said.
The equipment for the 5,000-square-foot dairy had to be modified to operate off of a 24-volt direct current. The production room houses two large stainless steel cheese vats, each with the capacity to hold 2,000 gallons of milk, which is enough to produce more than 1,000 pounds of cheese.
Milk for the cheese house is being supplied by fifteen local dairies, a majority being from the Amish community.
Southern Maryland’s only other dairy processor is P.A. Bowen Farmstead in Brandywine, about a half-hour from Clover Hill. P.A. Bowen Farmstead opened in 2009, one of a handful of farms in the state able to produce raw-milk cheese under the Farmstead Cheese Pilot Study Program. The raw-milk cheese is produced from P.A. Bowen’s small herd of grass-fed Jersey cows and aged for at least 60 days.
Until the opening of P.A. Bowen Farmstead, Southern Maryland had been without a dairy processor since 1998, when Embassy Dairy Inc. of Waldorf closed its doors.
McQuilken said the two new dairies are a positive step for agriculture in Southern Maryland.
“P.A. Bowen Farmstead and Clover Hill benefit our entire agricultural community. The knowledge that SMADC has gained working with Clover Hill will allow us to help other farmers who might be interested in starting dairy businesses,” she said.
Initial excitement about Clover Hill has been strong. Dairy owners say traffic has been better than expected and McQuilken said SMADC has fielded a number of calls from consumers asking for more information.
Clover Hill Dairy is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday during daylight hours. Cheese can be purchased at the on-farm store at the dairy, which is located at 27925 Woodburn Hill Road, Mechanicsville, Md.