Once again, Stewart’s Shops has bragging rights to producing the best milk in New York state.
The company’s milk was named the state’s best on Monday, earning a perfect score from Cornell University judges.
The award from the university’s Department of Food Science was announced at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, but has been a year in the making, with the university repeatedly testing the company’s milk products.
Having its milk acclaimed isn’t an unaccustomed position for the Malta-headquartered convenience store chain, which has always emphasized its milk, ice cream and other dairy products. Stewart’s milk also won State Fair first place awards in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and also received a perfect score in 2007.
The recognition is a mark of distinction for local farmers, since Stewart’s buys all its milk from roughly 30 farms in Saratoga, Washington and Rensselaer counties. The company produces about 180,000 gallons of milk per week, a company spokeswoman said.
“As a family and employee-owned company, we all take pride in an award like this,” Stewart’s President Gary Dake said in a news release. “We care for our milk every step of the way.”
The milk is picked up at the farms by company trucks and processed at a Stewart’s commercial dairy plant just outside Saratoga Springs in Greenfield, where it is pasteurized, blended and then distributed to company shops. The fluid product is in stores within 48 hours of when the cows are milked, the company said.
“We really have control over the entire process,” said company spokeswoman Maria D’Amelia. “We have full vertical integration of our process. That way, we are connected to the farmers and get to know all of the farmers.”
Jennifer Stevens, agricultural economic development specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, said her first reaction was to think of all the hard work local farmers put in to produce milk, milking cows, laboring for long hours and working the land.
“I think our farmers here are the ultimate stewards, and it shows in the milk quality,” Stevens said. “It really says something that this milk is produced in our region.”
The award recipient was determined by Cornell representatives collecting samples from various New York state dairy plants between July 2012 and July 2013. The samples of whole milk, 2 percent, 1 percent and skim milk were evaluated using criteria ranging from bacteria counts to flavor to butterfat content.
The milk is also used in the company’s store-brand buttermilk, eggnog, half-and-half and heavy cream, and its dozens of flavors of ice cream and frozen yogurt.
August had already been a good month for Stewart’s, which has 330 stores across northeastern New York and southern Vermont.
Blueberry Patch, a Greek frozen yogurt introduced this spring, was awarded first place among frozen yogurts at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., earlier this month. The company’s dark chocolate and Crumbs Along the Mohawk ice cream flavors also won in specific categories.
“It’s been great, exciting news for everyone who works so hard on a daily basis,” D’Amelia said.
The company employs about 4,500 people, from dairy plant workers to shop associates, she said.