Even though they milk cows in the  third-largest dairy county in the U.S., Noel and Rolland Rosa were frustrated that residents couldn’t buy homegrown milk.

“All of the milk produced in this area was going into cheese, powder and butter. The fluid milk in the stores around here was coming from northern and southern California – a three- to four-hour drive away. That just wasn’t acceptable to us,” says Noel Rosa.

So the brothers, realizing there was a growing demand for locally produced food, built a creamery and retail outlet and use milk from their 1,000-cow dairy in Hanford, CA. Rosa Brothers Milk Co., which opened a year ago in Tulare, is 15 miles from the farm and uses up to 10% of the herd’s production. Noel Rosa manages the creamery.

“Customer reaction has been fantastic,” says Rosa. “As commodity producers, we never had contact with the people who were consuming our product. Now people recognize us and say, ‘Hey, I love your milk.’ ”

Rosa also oversees the business side of the dairy and 600 acres of crops, while Rolland manages the herd. They grow corn, wheat for silage and alfalfa hay, which supply most of the herd’s forages.

“High-quality forages are the reason we’re still in business,” says Rosa. “The higher the quality of the forages, the fewer concentrates we have to purchase. Many dairies that didn’t produce their own forages have gone out of business in this area.”

He found that consumers like knowing where their food comes from and are willing to pay a little more for it. “They want to see how it’s made. Most massive-scale plants don’t allow anyone to come in and see how food is processed.”

At the Tulare processing facility and store, customers can watch milk being pasteurized and bottled from a large window and ask questions. Dairy tours are available Saturdays from April through November, and school tours happen during the week.

The creamery makes coffee creamer; whole, 2% and skim milk; plus chocolate-, strawberry- and root beer float-flavored milk. During June Dairy Month, an orange cream-flavored milk was introduced. “It tastes just like orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream,” he says.

Working with a food scientist, the family located top-quality ingredients for their flavored milks. “We went to a lot of ingredient suppliers and tried a lot of flavorings. We said, ‘Give us the best,’ and we did our pricing based on those ingredients.”

A quart of chocolate milk sells for around $3, plus a $2 refundable deposit for its glass bottle. Glass-bottled milk, Rosa says, “doesn’t take on any of the off-flavors from plastic or cardboard packaging. Glass bottles are also great insulators, and they’re refillable.”

Three flavors of ice cream, using all-natural ingredients, are also produced. Area restaurants and several large grocery stores, including some in nearby Fresno and Bakersfield, also sell Rosa products.

The brothers had kicked around the idea of starting the creamery for years, but it wasn’t until 2009 that Rosa took a cross-country trip visiting farms with processing plants. By late 2011, they had bought a warehouse and began remodeling it.

The creamery was built off the farm for two main reasons: food safety and ease of distribution. “By having a tanker go to the farm and pick up milk and then bring it to the plant, there’s a break in the bacteria cycle. We’re distributing to two larger cities – one to the north and the other to the south – and our plant is located just off the major highway that connects the two.”

The most challenging part of bringing the creamery to fruition was learning a new business, says Rosa. He talked to equipment suppliers, consulted with a food scientist and took an ice-cream-making course at Penn State University and processing and sanitation classes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

For more on the business, visit rosabrothers.com.

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