The skies were clear with only a few clouds intertwined like ribbons. The trees were blushing with autumnal color, leading the way like a festival procession down NC-54 toward Ran Lew Dairy in Snow Camp, North Carolina. The day couldn’t have been more perfect to pet a few cows, chat with farmer Randy Lewis, and taste his new cream-top eggnog just in time for the holiday season.
Randy Lewis, owner of Ran-Lew Dairy, stands in front of his favorite milk cow, Gloss, and her fellow heifers.
Pulling onto Ran-Lew Dairy’s property, an old dairy cow stood in the middle of the dirt driveway, chewing on hay as though it were a wad of Big League Chew. Randy Lewis, a fifth-generation farmer and owner of Ran-Lew Dairy, walked out of his white farmhouse to greet us. “That’s Gloss,” he said, pointing at the old dairy cow who had moved to leisurely lay with her fellow heifers. “She’s a special cow. The oldest cow out here. When she dies, she’ll be buried in the front yard with the other special cows before her.” Gloss looked up as if she knew her farmer was talking about her with deep respect and endearment. After learning about Gloss and her fellow milk cows, Lewis took us on a tour of his small, humble farm.
A woman’s love for cows paved the way for Ran-Lew Dairy.
Lewis’ grandmother was a cow person and grew up drinking Grade A milk in Orange County before she married Lewis’ grandfather in 1929. His grandmother loved cows and decided to start a dairy farm in order to enjoy the milk she enjoyed as a child. The milk barn where we stood, as Lewis detailed his family history, was built in 1950. When he was 8 years old, Lewis would milk cows with his grandmother twice a day. When his grandmother died, he purchased the land and continued her legacy.
What makes Ran-Lew Dairy milk special?
(Left Photo) One of Randy Lewis’ younger milk cows. Lewis has a total of 50 milk cows.
(Right Photo) A bag of feed waits to be used on Randy Lewis’ truck.
We stood inside the building where Lewis pasteurizes and stores his milk, listening to Lewis’ lesson on his pasteurization process. The mass-produced milk that you find in big-box grocery stores is ultra-pasteurized, which means all nutrients are blasted out of the milk along with the bad bacteria. Lewis’ uses a low-temperature pasteurization technique, preserving all of the top nutrients and enzymes in the milk while killing pathogenic bacteria.
Ran-Lew milk is non-homogenized, meaning the cream rises to the top after it sits for a while. You have to give it a good shake before you drink. When milk goes through the homogenization process, the milk-fat globules are broken down and dispersed evenly throughout so you don’t have to shake. “We have people who consider themselves lactose intolerant who can drink our milk,” said Lewis when he was explaining the difference between non-homogenized and homogenized milk. “Your body knows how to digest a fat-globule. An exploded fat-globule is something your body doesn’t know how to deal with. So you may not be lactose intolerant, you may not be able to handle homogenized milk”
The reason for Ran-Lew Dairy Eggnog this season.
Randy Lewis tells Happy Dirt staff about Ran-Lew Eggnog and how it’s made.
We spent well over an hour talking with Lewis, but spend at least 10 minutes with him and you know he deeply cares about the quality of the milk from udder to bottle. For the chocolate milk he makes on the farm, he uses natural cocoa, Dutch cocoa, sugar, and a little bit of salt. And for his eggnog, he is just as intentional about the ingredients as he is for his chocolate milk.
Because eggnog requires a certain percentage of egg-yolk solids, Lewis cannot make an eggnog base on his farm. When he started making eggnog as another source of revenue during the holiday season, he was intentional about the eggnog base that he sourced. Lewis could’ve taken the easy route and chosen an eggnog base filled with preservatives, but he wanted to make sure that he was honoring the integrity of his brand and the quality of Ran-Lew milk. After looking far and wide, he found a flavoring company in Michigan that makes a clean-label eggnog base. “There’s nothing in this base besides egg-yolk solids, natural flavoring, and enough citric acid to drop the pH to where nothing will grow. There are no preservatives of any kind,” said Lewis.
The eggnog base magically compliments Ran-Lew whole milk. The heat from the pasteurization process slightly caramelizes the milk’s natural sugar, giving it a slightly sweet taste. Pair a traditional eggnog base with Ran-Lew’s whole milk and you have an explosion of sweet, holiday cheer that doesn’t overwhelm the senses. And for those of you who avoid eggnog because you are lactose intolerant, you may be able to enjoy a glass of Ran-Lew’s non-homogenized eggnog. For those of you who like to add that holiday spirit to your eggnog, Lewis told us to tell you to add a little bourbon or rum.
Happy Dirt’s Hannah Taylor visits Ran-Lew calves before leaving the farm.
Before we left Ran-Lew Dairy, Lewis made sure to send us away with parting gifts of eggnog. We bid farewell to Gloss and her heifers and gave the calves a little pat on their noses. Driving down the old dirt road, we looked in the rearview mirror for one last look at the dairy farmer who wore overalls and a braid in his strawberry blonde beard. We were grateful for the time and stories he shared with us, as time is one of a farmer’s most valuable commodities. And if we were being completely honest, the eggnog he gave to us did not make it back to the office.
To learn more about how you can carry Ran-Lew Dairy milk in your store or how you can partner with Happy Dirt, send us a note!