The Enumclaw Plateau has been the epicenter of King County dairy production for over a century. However, the past few decades have seen dozens of dairies close or switch to producing different products. In 2012, when Haylee and Ryan Mensonides began their organic dairy in Enumclaw, there were 22 dairies on the plateau. Now, there are six.
Two of these dairies are direct-to-consumer that sell or will sell products grown, processed, and packaged by the producer: Mount Rainier Creamery and Fantello Creamery. The rest send their milk entirely to processing cooperatives such as Darigold and Organic Valley.
The Mensonides have been sending their milk to Organic Valley for over a decade but will soon be opening a store and on-site creamery to sell a portion of their milk fresh from the farm. This project has been in the works for four years and is in the final stages with an expected opening in September.
Mount Rainier Creamery was inspired by a commitment to quality and sustainability. By vertically integrating milk production, they will be able to reduce the product’s carbon footprint and get milk to consumers in just 48 hours after milking.
“We as an industry have allowed quality to slip, because of consolidation and processing and miles travelled,” Ryan Mensonides said in explaining the direct-to-consumer difference. “Farmers have done a great job, but when it leaves the dairy the process has become so convoluted. We’re trying to bring back a higher-quality, more digestible product. As an organic industry, we’re doing things that make milk taste better.”
Consumers will be able to purchase milk from the Mensonides’ farm at Mount Rainier Creamery & Market in Buckley. The market will be a local-first drive-through grocery, selling fresh food from within a 50-60 mile radius of the store.
“Communities thrive on their own strengths,” Haylee Mensonides says of the inspiration for the store. “We have this amazing culture of farms, fruits and vegetables. If there’s a way we can bring all them together without having the hands in between that take away from the farmer, we want to do it.”
Sustainability is also at the forefront of plans for the store, with Mount Rainier Creamery milk packaged in reusable glass bottles and low-waste packaging for other products. Customers will even be able to get locally roasted espresso drinks from Anchor House Coffee through the drive-through, a partnership that arose naturally through community ties.
Another product that will be available for purchase is cheese from Fantello Creamery, a small direct-to-consumer dairy dedicated to making cheeses that highlight the unique taste of the Enumclaw Plateau.
Paul Fantello and co-owner and artisan cheesemaker Patricia Ciatto revived Fantello’s family dairy in 2015. Fantello’s grandmother milked jersey cows on the farm until she was 80 years old, and now Fantello is continuing to use much of the same equipment and buildings that his grandmother did.
Fantello said the creamery is committed to the highest quality of product. And with only 20 cows, Fantello and Ciatto can do each step of the cheese-making process by hand with care.
“None of our milk ever hits a milk pump; we milk into buckets, not a pipeline,” he said. “We hand lift to the creamery, and once it is transferred it is entirely gravity fed. We pay the highest amount of respect to our milk.”
This dedication to quality seeps into every aspect of the dairy, from the entirely locally grown grass feed to the business practices, to the cows themselves. Most of the herd of 20 registered Jersey cows produce the A2-A2 protein in their milk, which is easier to digest than the more common A1 protein.
“I love cows, I love dairy, and I love being able to turn that milk into something special that represents the Enumclaw Plateau,” Fantello said, “Our cheese is a true taste of place. It’s the key that separates us from anyone else – that’s the passion behind what we do.”
Enjoy your local dairies this National Dairy Month!
Fantello Creamery products can be purchased online at fantellocreamery.com and at the Kirkland, Queen Anne, Madrona, University District, and West Seattle farmers markets or PCC and Town & Country markets.
Mount Rainier Creamery will be opening their creamery and store this fall. For updates, follow their social media.