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Jere Brittain: A treasure that tastes great

What makes the Mills River Town Center and Park so popular, despite the partial closure due to the virus pandemic?

I think one of the main attractions is the stunning view to the west, with Bradley Johnson’s Jersey cattle grazing in the foreground and the Pisgah range rising in the distance. A good way for Town Council members to begin each meeting would be to walk outside the Town Hall and look to the west for a few minutes. Then they could discuss electronic billboards and managing development with added perspective.
That Jersey herd and the Mills River Creamery should be designated Town of Mills River and Henderson County treasures, with incentives comparable to those commonly offered in industrial recruiting.
Recently, Joanne and I visited the Creamery for fresh milk, buttermilk, butter and ice cream. Bradley’s cows are selected for production of milk believed to be more digestible as a result of its higher proportion of the a2 protein. These beautiful cows are descendants of the famous Biltmore herd.
During my late teens, one of my several part time jobs was assisting Mr. Harry Lutz, supervisor of the local Dairy Herd Improvement Association. Dairy herds enrolled in the program required monthly milk sampling from each cow for daily production and butterfat content. My favorite destination to collect samples was Sleepy Hollow Farm on the Biltmore Estate. In the early 1950s, Biltmore had several herds dispersed throughout the Estate, each with a resident herdsman. After a few visits to Sleepy Hollow I noticed a couple of unusually fat hounds lying outside the milk room door. After enhancing his morning coffee with a third of a cup of rich Jersey cream from the top of the ten-gallon can from the previous evening’s milking, the herdsman poured out about a quart of pure cream into a milk can lid for his hounds.
Supporting local farmers seems more important than ever these days. Nancy Lynn and her associates at Mills River Creamery will bring their great products to the curb if you call ahead. These products cost more than generic dairy items at the big box markets, but the superior quality is well worth the difference. I have developed an economic theory to justify occasional purchase of the best Irish single malt or Jersey milk that our budget allows: buy the best, consume less and savor it slowly.
I hasten to acknowledge that dairy farming, especially when adding value by processing retail products, is much more than a picturesque scene in a grassy meadow. It is a complex and earthy business. Cows require prodigious quantities of forage, feed and water, and they produce tons of by-product politely known as slurry. Environmental regulations complicate slurry disposal, and food safety and security require strict monitoring and compliance. These factors, combined with economies of scale, account for the fact that dairy farms in Henderson County are rare and endangered.
Mills River Creamery whole buttermilk gives Joanne’s cornbread a special flavor. She shares her recipe here, for the first time in writing. (Note: one of Joanne’s biscuit fans has never been able to replicate her recipe and says, “It must be a feel thing.”)

Buttermilk Cornbread

2 cups self-rising corn meal mix, ½ teaspoon baking soda, 1 egg, 2 cups Mills River Creamery buttermilk ¼ cup canola oil (or any vegetable oil). Mix all ingredients. Preheat oven to 450 F. Cover bottom of a well cured medium sized cast iron skillet with cooking oil and preheat skillet. Pour mixture into skillet and bake for about 30 minutes until top is light brown. Turn out on cooling rack.

Journeying on …

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A sixth generation native of Mills River, Hendersonville Lightning columnist Jere Brittain is a retired professor of horticulture at Clemson University, a musician and songwriter and Henderson County history enthusiast. He writes about life in and around Mills River.