A half-hour drive south of Portland is what appears to be a standard dairy farm stocked with standard cows, but looks can be deceiving: These are “cow-lebrities,” and on top of the cheese and ice cream made on-site, these cows make vodka, too.
TMK Creamery is home to 20 Holstein cows and, as such, is a member of the Holstein Association. The organization oversees American Holstein breeding and ranks cows across the country from a phenotypical standpoint. While on other dairy farms, this ranking is often a quiet affair, TMK Creamery owner Todd Koch decided to make it a public bovine beauty pageant called the “Cow-lebrity Showcase.” Every seven months, a member from the Holstein Association ranks TMK’s herd cow-by-cow with an emcee announcing the scoring and with area families cheering on from a small set of bleachers.
In addition to being enthusiastic about his herd’s health and beauty, Koch is a pioneer in the diversity of their byproducts as well.
Generally speaking, the process of cheesemaking yields massive amounts of leftover watery milk called whey—in fact, every pound of cheese made leaves nine pounds of whey behind. While most cheesemakers will dump it in a landfill or enrich their fields with leftover whey, TMK upcycles it into a new product: “cowcohol.” After learning about the process of fermenting whey from an Oregon State University scientist, Koch teamed up with a nearby distillery to turn his whey into the vodka-like liquor in 2018. The fermenting process imparts the finished product with smooth, caramelly notes.
The proliferation of fermented whey liquor from creameries like TMK marks a new era for sustainable dairy farming. To Koch, however, “it’s a tribute to the cows.”