• Editor's Note Summer 2011

    Editor's Note Summer 2011

    It’s practically a requirement for any journalistic publication (such as this one) to keep tabs on what’s new and exciting in the field it covers. Not only is it the publication’s responsibility to keep readers up to date, it also makes for good copy. Journalists find it hard to write about “what hasn’t changed since yesterday,” even though the fact that something hasn’t changed is often, in its own quiet way, newsworthy. Journalists and editors get a frisson of excitement when something new(s) crosses their path.

    Continue Reading

  • Set the Table with Hot Sauce

    Set the Table with Hot Sauce

    Vermont is known for many things, but spicy food is not one of them. Fortunately for the spice lovers among us, many local farmers have bucked the trend and have been cultivating delicious, spicy chilis for us to enjoy. Hot peppers need heat to grow, but with a good dose of sunlight and perhaps some black plastic over the soil, peppers can thrive in Vermont’s warm summers.

    Continue Reading

  • Growing Backyard Mushrooms

    Growing Backyard Mushrooms

    Even for the most adventurous gardeners and avid wild mushroom foragers, the idea of growing one’s own gourmet mushrooms may seem mysterious. But there are a number of methods that gardeners and farmers use to incorporate gourmet mushrooms into their landscapes, and these methods are fairly easy for anyone to try at home.

    Continue Reading

  • A 10-Year Stroll

    A 10-Year Stroll

    With hundreds of spectators lining Main Street in Brattleboro, the groomed and bedazzled heifers are led down the center of the street to the cheers of onlookers. Hundreds of cows preen for the delighted crowd, followed by more farm animals (bulls, goats, and horses), tractors (also decorated for the parade) floats, clowns, marching bands, street performers, and all manner of groups touting their various farm affiliations.

    Continue Reading

  • After the Fire

    After the Fire

    Barn’s burnt down…now I can see the moon. –Chinese proverb

    Yet the converse is also true: Yes, we can see the moon, but it won’t shelter tractors, nor can vegetables be washed, packed, and stored inside its lovely glow. Oh, the moon is beautiful, but what can it do for food and a business after the fire is put out?

    Continue Reading

  • Micro Milk

    Micro Milk

    Local food and slow food frequently mean small food: small farms, small producers, small quantities. The English language happens to provide a nice term for very small: micro. So it follows that the antidote to a huge, consolidated milk production system might be a micro dairy.

    Continue Reading

  • Farm Stays

    Farm Stays

    A number of farms in Vermont double as B&B’s. The next time your relatives come to town, they can have a bucolic, back-to-the-land experience—or you can take a weekend and have one yourself! 

    Continue Reading

  • A Charcuterie Cure

    A Charcuterie Cure

    Here in the kitchen of Pete Colman’s barn-apartment in Plainfield, a small banner on the wall bears the magnanimous face of the Italian priest and saint Padre Pio, with the words “Don’t worry, soon you will be cured.” In the context of this home—just steps away from a sparkling new meat-curing shop that shares the same barn—it’s hard to know just who the saint is addressing: the cook who lives there or…the pig.

    Continue Reading

  • Farming in a Changing Climate

    Farming in a Changing Climate

    Seems like the weather’s been extreme in recent years: heat waves, ice storms, and floods. How is this related to climate change? The answer is, indirectly. Weather events are not a good tool for assessing the climate, since climate is made up of weather patterns over many decades. There are ups and downs within seasons, but the trends over time are what counts. They include both temperature and precipitation patterns, and these affect environmental conditions, which in turn affect plants, animals, and ecosystems.

    Continue Reading

  • Farmers' Kitchen—Bella Basil

    Farmers' Kitchen—Bella Basil

    Pesto is summer. It is the bright flavor of fresh basil, the bite of raw garlic, and the smoothness of olive oil. Tasting pesto can bring the visceral sensations of warmth and sunlight to us, even in the darkest days of winter. At Bella Farm, my small crew and I grow eight varieties of basil, as well as seven varieties of garlic and many culinary herbs. We process the basil and garlic into our signature dairy-and nut-free pesto, called Bella Farm Organic Pesto.

    Continue Reading

  • Summer Cartoon—Post Peak Oil

    Summer Cartoon—Post Peak Oil

    Scenes we'd like to see: Post Peak Oil

    Continue Reading

  • One Wild Potluck

    One Wild Potluck

    The Peterson Field Guide Edible Wild Plants has a recipe for clovers that says clovers are not very digestible but can be soaked for hours in salty water to make them so. Christopher Nyerges book Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants tells you that the seeds of the plantain, a common weed around these parts, can be soaked in water until soft and then cooked up like rice. It goes on to say that the result is slightly “mucilaginous and bland.”

    Continue Reading


Micro Milk

A South Royalton company envisions a rebirth of Vermont dairy through small-scale pasteurization

Bob-White’s low-impact, small-scale pasteurizer
Bob-White’s low-impact, small-scale pasteurizer

Written By

Sylvia Fagin

Written on

June 01 , 2011

Local food and slow food frequently mean small food: small farms, small producers, small quantities. The English language happens to provide a nice term for very small: micro. So it follows that the antidote to a huge, consolidated milk production system might be a micro dairy.

If not exactly an industry term, the phrase “micro dairy” is being used with increasing regularity. A Google search on it yielded two producers of small processing equipment and several news stories about small farms and their products, from across the country and the world.

And several times in that Google search, Bob-White Systems, a company based in South Royalton, appeared.

He may not have coined the term, but Steven Judge, Bob-White’s founder, uses “micro dairy” to refer to a dairy farm with six or fewer cows that sells all its products—such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and butter—directly from the farm.

“It’s becoming an industry term,” Judge says. “It wasn’t even a term 10 years ago. Having only three or four cows was inconceivable.” Judge should know. He’s been in and out of the dairy business for “about 40 years,” and has seen a lot of farms fold in that time. He believes that micro dairy pasteurization will help individual farmers regain control of the dairy industry after years of consolidation.

Judge’s vision is this: hundreds of micro dairies throughout Vermont, each with a handful of cows providing fresh, “gently pasteurized” milk directly to neighbors. According to company calculations, a four-cow dairy selling milk at $7 per gallon—a theoretical price based on the going rate for raw milk—could net almost $21,000 annually. That’s not enough to make a living, Judge concedes, but enough to supplement another income stream from the farm, like a CSA, or an off-the-farm job. Milking four cows, and pasteurizing their milk, takes only an hour or two a day, Judge claims, leaving plenty of time for other endeavors.

The key to this vision is Bob-White’s low-impact, small-scale pasteurizer designed specifically for micro dairies. Although the company has yet to sell a single one—their system hasn’t met all the conditions necessary for state approval—Bob-White staff are hard at work promoting the benefits that small-scale pasteurization could bring to Vermont agriculture.

Currently, consumers can buy raw (unpasteurized) milk directly from dairy farmers. But not all consumers want to drink raw milk. Customers wanting pasteurized milk from local farms have few choices. Only Strafford Organic Creamery in Strafford, Monument Farms Dairy in Weybridge, Thomas Dairy in Rutland, and Oak Knoll Dairy in Windsor bottle exclusively Vermont milk for retail sale throughout the state.

What’s more, small farms wanting to sell pasteurized Vermont milk can’t easily do so. Over the years, the consolidation of the milk industry has made small-scale bottling a thing of the past. Bottling equipment is hard to find, tricky to repair, and, due to its relative scarcity, often expensive.


In a sunny storefront that was once a video rental store, Bob-White Systems (the company is named after the northern bobwhite quail, a game bird common in the small North American dairy pastures of yesteryear) sells new and used small-scale dairy equipment and cheese making supplies—and demonstrates a prototype of the company’s low-impact, small-scale pasteurizer.

Pasteurization, which has been used on commercial milk since the early 1900s, involves heating milk to a certain temperature—at least 161°F for fluid milk—long enough to kill potential disease-causing bacteria. Most large-scale and commercial pasteurization use a system called “HTST,” which stands for high temperature, short time. In HTST systems, milk enters the pasteurization unit through a tube, is heated to the required temperature, and is held in a loop for the necessary time, usually less than 30 seconds. The milk then exits the unit through another tube to another bulk tank.

Large commercial dairies pasteurize hundreds or thousands of gallons a minute. Monument Farms, which milks 450 cows, uses an HTST system to pasteurize 16 gallons a minute; the HTST system at Strafford Organic Creamery, which milks around 50 cows, uses an Israeli-designed system that pasteurizes slightly more than two gallons a minute. Bob-White’s system could pasteurize one gallon per minute.

HTST pasteurization differs from vat pasteurization, which is the small-scale system most commonly used by small cheesemakers. In vat pasteurization, the milk is poured into the tank, heated, and held at the required temperature for the required time, usually 10–15 minutes for milk, longer for butter, cheese, and yogurt. Vat pasteurization is a longer process and is “harsher on the milk,” according to Judge—thus the Bob-White claim that their system is “low impact” and retains the milk’s delicate, farm-fresh flavor.

Rather than shrink an existing HTST system, Bob-White chose to take the essential HTST concepts and apply them to a small, farmstead-scale machine. Consequently, current pasteurization regulations, written for large commercial equipment, don’t apply to its system. Bob-White engineers met with the FDA about their prototype and are incorporating the FDA’s feedback into their design process. Once the redesign is complete, the company will seek approval from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for the unit.

The unit isn’t designed for milk that’s going to cross state lines, Judge says, so the company will seek approval from individual states, rather than try to comply with the federal pasteurized milk ordinance (PMO). Judge hopes the unit will be ready for state inspection in late summer.

But are there farms interested in selling bottled pasteurized milk? Judge gets calls from small farmers across the nation interested in doing just that. Bob-White’s modeling theorizes that Vermont could support roughly 1,000 micro dairies each bottling about 20 gallons a day—enough to provide milk to approximately 60 families—although the market for farm-bottled, pasteurized milk is mostly untested.

One small Vermont farm currently bottling milk on the micro scale is Farm and Wilderness in Plymouth. Chantal Deojay milks three cows and uses a 35-gallon vat pasteurizer to pasteurize milk four times a week. She sells the non-homogenized milk for about $7/gallon at the Rutland and Shrewsbury co-ops and the Woodstock Farmers’ Market store.

Her small-scale equipment—which fills only one bottle at a time—wasn’t cheap, Deojay concedes; she estimates that she paid or so $30,000 for all the components. But the milk sells well. “People love it,” she says.

It’s hard to know if Judge’s vision of 1,000 such micro dairies producing fluid milk could become reality. Diane Bothfeld, Vermont’s deputy secretary of agriculture, notes that “Vermont already produces more milk than it can drink,” shipping most of what’s produced here out of state. Even so, “small dairy is really booming” in Vermont, according to Dan Scruton, dairy and energy Chief of the Division of Food Safety and Consumer Protection at the Agency of Agriculture. He notes that a number of licenses are pending for small-dairy producers.


Judge also sees potential customers for his small-scale pasteurizer among Vermont’s small-scale producers of cheese, butter, and yogurt. Turkey Hill Farm in Randolph Center is one of those small-scale producers. Owners Stuart and Margaret Osha sell raw milk directly from their farm and will continue to do so, but they recently purchased a 45-gallon vat pasteurization system in order to make yogurt from the milk of their five cows.

“The vat is designed so you can do 45 gallons or 4 gallons,” Margaret explained. In addition to yogurt, the Oshas will likely also pasteurize milk for soft cheeses. “We like the versatility,” she added. “You never know when we’re going to have the next idea.”

The Oshas purchased their small vat pasteurizer from MicroDairy Designs in Maryland for $20,000. The unit includes a chiller and a filler/bottler unit, and if they so chose, the Oshas could adapt it to bottle fluid milk and cream as well as yogurt, although they aren’t currently planning to do so.

The Bob-White system, which Judge anticipates will retail for approximately $25,000, is equally versatile, able to process any amount of milk. Bob-White is also working on developing a filler/bottler to use with the pasteurizer, so that farmers can meet federal Grade A dairy regulations. Grade A dairy products, which include fluid milk and yogurt, can’t be touched by human hands. Thus, any farmer wanting to sell Grade A dairy products across state lines must also purchase a filler, a machine that fills and seals the container.

Judge thinks that doesn’t make sense. He’d like to see small-scale milk processors avoid the need to purchase expensive automated fillers; efficient, small-scale fillers can cost as much as $20,000, he estimates. So he’s been talking with the Vermont House and Senate agriculture committees, exploring the feasibility of regulating small dairy farms less like huge milk producers and more like delis and restaurants. “In a commercial kitchen, you’re allowed to have raw food and cooked food in the same place,” he notes. “You’re allowed to fill containers by hand if you’re wearing gloves and a hairnet.

That’s essentially how raw milk producers are allowed to sell.”

While the conversations have yet to yield action, “I feel optimistic because it would make sense,” Judge says. “You should be able to trust a farmer to produce a good, clean product as much as you can trust a pizzeria or a deli.”


So Judge soldiers on. A veteran of the dairy industry—he was a founding member of Vermont Family Farms in the 1990s and spent time managing the Woodstock Water Buffalo Farm—he appears to have the tenacity to stick with a good idea. And after years of milking a larger herd, he can personally confirm the smaller workload of a micro dairy. His own farm, just a few miles up the road from the Bob-White store, serves as the company’s applied research site; he milks four Jerseys to develop best practices for the equipment.

Since its founding in 2006, the company has raised almost $1 million in private investment to finance the development of the low-impact pasteurization system. Seven engineers have been involved in its design. Even if, for some unforeseen reason, the equipment isn’t approved in the U.S., Judge is confident that it can be marketed overseas. “The rest of the world has reasonable regulation,” he says.

Small-scale pasteurizers can also be used for products other than milk, such as juice and tea, so the equipment will have a market beyond dairy processors. Judge knows that demand exists for small-scale equipment, as Bob-White routinely stocks vat pasteurizers and 30–80 gallon bulk tanks from Slovenia.

“We’re selling [these] to small-scale farms that are selling raw milk, and some are pasteurizing and making butter or cheese,” Judge notes. Many of these farms call for advice, and Bob-White provides consulting services to farms looking to establish a micro dairy business.

In addition to sustaining small-scale agriculture, Judge thinks there’s another reason why micro dairies are an attractive idea. “Genetically, people like to work the land,” he comments. “And there are people saying they want local milk and they want an alternative to raw milk. The dairy industry is collapsing. This could reinvigorate it.”

Photo courtesy of Bob-White Systems

About the Author

Sylvia Fagin

Sylvia Fagin

Sylvia Fagin writes about food and agriculture from her home in Montpelier. To make sure that Vic, Marianne and the Bobs were making wine correctly, she recently took a tour of the Calchaquíes Valley winemaking region of northwestern Argentina. She is happy to report that they are right on track. Contact Sylvia via Twitter: @sylviafagin.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

What we do

A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


Sign up for quarterly notifications and issue highlights.
Please wait