Pyykkonnen believes that keeping dairy production local will improve the quality of milk and make for an overall better product. He was drawn to consuming community-made products after spending time with dairy farmers in Wisconsin.
“I found these groups of grass-based dairy farmers, rotational grazers, looking for quality production over quantity production and I just fell in love with it. I tasted their milk too, and it was awesome,” Pyykkonnen told DairyReporter.
In 1910, 75% of all the milk consumed in Chicago was produced within 100 miles of Chicago; 200 bottlers were within the city, and surrounding McHenry and Kane counties ranked among the top five dairy producing counties in the US, according to Pyykkonen.
“Back in the 1920s and 1930s this is how we did dairy,” Pyykkonen said.
But as the methodology of making milk changed to mass-produced homogenized milk, grass-fed dairy fell out of favor.
“Transparency is a huge thing, just being as open as possible and sharing what our product actually is,” Pyykkonen said.
1871 Dairy packages its milk and yogurt products in glass containers with simple branding to emphasize the product over the marketing visuals. By conveying a transparent message of the product’s origin, Pyykkonen believes that consumers can feel a direct connection the dairy farm.
“We’re getting an avenue for urban consumers to be farmers by proxy,” Pyykkonen said.
1871 Dairy makes its unhomogenized, organic, grass-fed milk in 100 gallon and 300 gallon vats, heating the milk up to 145F (the lowest pasteurization temperature the FDA will allow, says Pyykkonen), and then bottling the milk at the farm.
The company’s low temperature pasteurization creates a noticeably different taste because the milk undergoes a physical change during the process, and the end product has a much smoother, richer, cleaner taste compared to conventional milk, Pyykkonen said.
The company has plans to open up a microdairy in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood within the next few months, where raw milk from its current dairy farm in Wausau, Wisconsin, will be transported to its Chicago microdairy to be pasteurized, bottled, and sold.
Competing milk alternatives
1871 Dairy’s goal of making wholesome dairy products is not impacted by the emerging non-dairy milk alternatives market, Pyykkonen said.
“I suppose our trick is that we don’t care. We’re pretty indifferent to what the market response is because we’re more mission and fundamentally driven,” Pyykkonen said. “We want our milk to be the best version of milk it can be. I do think what we’re doing is a lot more compelling than some of those alternatives.”
And for 1871 Dairy, it's not about rapid expansion, it’s about a focus on sustainable growth.
“The only reason I get excited about selling a lot of our milk is because for every gallon of our product that's purchased, that means there are 70 square feet of permanent pasture created. To me, that’s the metric that might be the most significant,” Pyykkonen said.