Interview with Local Foods and Treats Series: 10 Questions with Ron Marks, Founder of AltantaFresh Artisan Creamery
January 27, 2016
Time for another local food interview!
I met with Ron in early January and took a tour of the facility. I learned a lot about yogurt production and let me tell you... making yogurt in small batches is no easy task. But AtlantaFreshmakes it look simple AND good yogurt (among other delightful dairy products) is their passion.
I sampled a variety of flavors. I usually buy the plain yogurt (which for me has the perfect balance of sweet and tart) because of its versatility. Now, I will be buying others. The Lemon Custard Royale was deliciously creamy and you could actually taste the almond finish. Tropical Sweet Heat is not only wonderful on its own but is amazing as marinade for meats and/or fish. I can envision a tropical themed meal this summer by the grill. Try it!
AtlantaFresh goes beyond the yogurt - they make chef's premium whipping cream (which is fantastic in coffee), Greek dressings and cream cheese. As soon as I can get my hands on some Wheymonade, I will be adding it to my repertoire of yogurt options. It is their new probiotic smoothie made from the same locally sourced grass fed cows. Plus, they will be adding grass-fed milk to their product line....
Read more about why I love AtlantaFresh and share with me your favorite flavor!
1. If you could define AtlantaFresh food philosophy in one sentence it would be....
To create the highest quality cultured dairy products possible using local grassfed milk from fully pastured cows.
2. What is most important to AtlantaFresh (i.e. quality, whole ingredients etc...)?
The right milk; Sourced from a local dairy farm we know and trust. fully pastured, grass fed, milked within 6 hours of receiving at the creamery, high in protein and butterfat content. Without this, all of the products we make and all of our food ethics are compromised.
3. Why small batches?
We were built and conceived as a regional producer committed to using low-tech traditional old world production methods. Large volume, continuous batch production goes against these principals and separates the yogurt maker away from the yogurt. Our milk changes slightly with every load of milk (as we are a single source farm) we receive from the farm, and we need to tailor culture times and separation technique to each batch we produce to ensure the highest possible quality.
4. How many people are involved in the development of your taste profiles?
We develop new products based upon requests from our regular customers, from our major customer (Whole Foods Market) and where I believe there are needs and opportunities for our product line in the market. I have been in the food business for 40 years as a chef, a new food product developer and a consumer researcher. I will initially develop recipes and formulas, where we will go through internal product reviews and technical QA testing. From there we sample to our key customer base and revise prototypes as needed. Typically we will go through a dozen or so prototype revisions before we will launch a new item.
5. How are your flavors developed? (this is really a follow up to question 4)
See question 4
6. How did you pick your location?
My previous business called Focus On Food (a culinary innovation center) was located in the current AtlantaFresh facility. When the economy tanked in 2008, I needed to reinvent our company. This was the genesis of AtlantaFresh. During the first few years of AtlantaFresh, we converted test kitchens and consumer tasting panel facilities into dairy processing and refrigerated storage areas. I felt there was a need for high end cultured dairy products and there were no producers like this in the Southeast and I knew there were dairy farmers in the region willing and wanting to produce the kind of milk we needed.
7. Where do your cows come from? :)
Our milk comes from 2 dairy farms located in Waynesboro GA which are run by a New Zealand dairy farmer using traditional New Zealand grass fed pasture rotation methods.
8. Why do you think consumers are concerned with local, whole-foods?
Unfortunately, I think more about why there are not more consumers concerned with local, whole foods. Understandably, there are many more folks concerned about this now than 5 or 10 years ago, but it is still a very small % of the total food consuming population (i.e. everyone). For the progressive minded folks that are concerned with local whole foods, I think there are 2 driving issues; 1. The current industrial food manufacturing complex is ruining the environment, killing people through diseases of the western diet and is an abomination in terms of animal rights and the quality of life for 95% of all farm animals raised for slaughter. 2. They have come to realize the multiple benefits of local whole foods in terms of quality, nutrition, supporting local economies, their overall health and respecting and understanding the wisdom of the way food has been produced throughout civilized history prior to the industrialization of food starting in the 1950’s.
9. What is your favorite flavor?
It tends to vary, but right now, I am really in love with our 2 new recently launched flavors, the Chia SuperBerry (our first no sugar added flavored yogurt) and Lemon Custard Royale. My favorites before these came out were, Karma Java, 2% Mixed Berry and Whole Milk Plain.
10. Future of AtlantaFresh?
This is going to be a very big year for AtlantaFresh. Our dairy farmer and our entire product line is going to become Non-GMO certified and we are going to start producing fresh milk which will be 100% Grass-Fed, Non-GMO, Low-temp pasteurized and Non-Homogenized (Cream Top style). We will also be producing Chocolate Milk and Buttermilk. Our Creamery is currently under construction to facilitate the addition of these items to our product line.