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Shop Talk

January 15, 2011

Shop Talk: Cowbella

Cowbella 157 Danforth Road, Jefferson Owners: Shannon and Hamilton Mason and Gail and David Peake Established: late 1800s Employees: Family-run

Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Shannon Mason and Gail Peake of Cowbella, a line of butter and yogurt based at a Jefferson dairy.

How long have you lived in the area?

Shannon Mason: I was born here and moved away for a number of years to go to college and work but returned _ this has always been home to me.

Gail Peake: Yes, we are all from this area as our farm, the Danforth Jersey Farm, has been in the same family for close to 200 years.

Tell me about your business:

Peake: We make Cowbella butter from our Danforth Jersey Farm cow's milk and add flavors such as honey-cinnamon, maple, orange-cranberry, garlic-oregano and fig-vanilla. We make plain and many flavors of Cowbella yogurt adding local honey, maple syrup and seasonal fruit mixtures.

Describe a typical day in your business:

Mason: Making butter and yogurt is very time-consuming, so currently we make a batch once a week with plans to increase production in early spring. The day in the dairy room begins at 6 a.m., with the transport tank's arrival from our milking parlor bulk tank.

Peake: Right now we use about 600 to 800 pounds of milk that is pumped into a pasteurizer before going to a separator. The cream goes toward butter production in the automated churn while skimmed milk returns to the pasteurizer for our yogurt recipe that requires several other steps. Packaging, labeling and refrigeration follow as the day in the creamery comes to an end some 14 hours later.

How did you get started in this line of work?

Peake: I feel like it is not so much how I started in this line of work, but how my great-grandmother Martha Danforth started into this line of work: this is a way to bring in additional income when milk itself is not enough. Timing played a part also; I recently retired from a teaching career.

Mason: In 2006, my grandfather passed away, and I knew that his dream was to keep the farm running. In his honor, I decided to take on the challenge, but knew that I would need to do more than sell milk. The answer was plain to see. I decided to take up my great-great-grandmother's idea of making butter.

Where do you see this business in five years?

Peake: We want to be able to see a profit from our investment and enough of a success to provide an opportunity for Shannon and Hamilton's young children Gus and Daisy to continue farming if they choose to.

Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:

Mason: There are two times that stand out for me. The first was when Cowbella was still just an idea. After I had moved back to the farm with my husband and baby Gus and started milking, that first day the milk truck arrived and picked up the milk was amazing and emotional for me; that marked the beginning of all this. The second memorable moment was this past November as the first batch of golden-colored cream flowed out of the separator: actually seeing what we had been working to achieve become a reality.

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