The Challenges of Being a Small Producer - Ice Cream Edition

Michael Christner is the owner of Dojo Gelato at Findlay Market, and recently posted about some of the systemic challenges of trying to make the best product possible at his shop on Cincinnati Locavore's Yahoo group (if you're interested in local food issues, and aren't a member, you're missing out). Michael's also a neighbor of mine, and I responded to his post and asked for some more information. I think the compiled info is worth sharing:
"I'm the owner of Dojo Gelato at Findlay Market and I'm in love with making Italian ice cream.

My insight on creating ice cream from scratch is that due to very strict dairy regulations if you formulate an ice cream base (milk + cream + sugar, natural stabilizers, etc.) in an ice cream shop, it has to be re-pasteurized at your location. When I opened in August I had a dream of creating my own ice cream base from scratch. Although this is legal to do in Ohio, the Department of Agriculture makes it near impossible for a small producer as myself to do so. A small commercial grade pasteurizer, on the average, is $20,000, and has to be located in an enclosed and segregated area within the shop, away from retail space. Furthermore, you cannot produce/make ANY other food items in this location if you make an ice cream base from scratch due to possible cross contamination from other foods.

Although this is not the ideal situation for me (having to purchase my base) it is my only fiscal and legal option at this point. At Dojo, we do our best. We source our base that we use to make our gelati from a local dairy in Cincinnati that uses rBGH free milk. You would be amazed how many popular and well established ice cream stores across America have their ice cream base and ice cream trucked in from other states! Last summer I sourced various fruits from local growers and as we become more established we will source even more local ingredients. I would love to use Snowville cream in making my gelato. But for me it's not a question of affording Snowville, it's a question of affording the proper equipment and production space.

I've enjoyed reading the informative insights the last six months on CinciLocavore, especially the last few weeks in regard to the formation of a buyers collective with farmers and restaurants. Although it is painfully obvious why small businesses should be buying as local as possible, there are usually many intricate reasons tied to purchasing decisions.

From what I've found, the more I try to make ice cream the "right" way, the more difficult the states make it for me. It's nuts. One thing I've learned, just like tobacco or the meat industry, the dairy lobby in the United States is a very powerful force.

My small agricultural inspector basically admitted the entire "pasteurization at my store" thing wasn't all that much about safety (because the milk I would be using is already pasteurized), it's because statewide the dairy lobby saw a bit of a threat and didn't want the thousands of $s their backers had invested in processing equipment to be jeopardized by small to mid-size dairy processors (cheese people, yogurt people, ice cream people). They make you earn the right to make a craft product. And earning it doesn't come cheap. All I want to do is add milk to cream to sugar. But to do that legally I have to re-pasteurize. Crazy."
I'm so glad Michael was willing to share this insight. As a consumer, I want to know what I can do to take us from "crazy" to sane. Next up - researching where one would go to make a complaint about this or to voice frustration.  Is there anyone in the Ohio Statehouse that takes up these kinds of issues that would be worth getting to know?  I think sharing this kind of information and getting people thinking about the systemic problems is when the locavore “movement” is going to really gain power that it can use for good.

Dojo Gelato on Urbanspoon


more local food said...

Tho,I am the mom of Gavin and the mother-in-law to Sarah, I have give a double thumbs up to this blog. Nice! I am looking forward to many more posts and pictures!


PS I am writing from Guatemala. Finding fabulous food here,too!Today at Finca Ixobel having salads prepared from greens from their organic garden.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

thanks anonymous :). we're going to do our best!