The Cream Rises to the Top

The Rock House Creamery in Newborn turns out a variety of milks and cheeses, and it stands as a throwback to mom-and-pop operations of yesteryear. 

by Nat Harwell

Seeing an example of Americana at work never fails to refresh the spirit. The inspirational Horatio Alger-type story of pulling one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps or small-town-boy-makes-good sort of tale almost always illustrates what remains great about this nation. Dreams can still come true if one has a vision, a little luck with good timing and a desire to work hard.

Such a dream is taking shape out in some of the most beautiful country found in this neck of woods, southeastern Newton County, where a visionary named Keith Kelly has purchased the former Johnston family dairy farm and established the Rock House Creamery. With a passion for the small mom-and-pop dairy operations that once populated our area but have been squeezed nearly out of existence in the 21st Century, Kelly decided to put together a complete creamery operation in one spot, producing products from start to finish under one roof.

“We want to follow a course of keeping sales close to the customer so our story doesn’t get lost in translation,” said Haley Gilleland, who manages wholesale distribution and coordinates tours of the creamery. Hailing from Fitzgerald, she earned her Master’s degree from the University of Georgia in animal science before joining the Rock House Creamery team. 

Jessica Kennedy serves as the creamery manager. A 1996 graduate of Newton High School, she earned her dairy science degree at Georgia, and after 16 years serving the Georgia Department of Agriculture as a farm inspector, she discovered how she could follow her passion of dairying with the Rock House Creamery. Kennedy oversees the herd, milks the cows, produces the growing number of products at the creamery and takes a hands-on approach
to every aspect of the operation. 

“We have a herd of 100 cows,” Kennedy said, “and we’re currently milking 60 of them. From this we’re able to turn out whole milk, New World-style chocolate milk, buttermilk [and] several varieties of cheeses, along with fresh curds and Fromage, which is a cream cheese.”

“We want to follow a course of keeping sales close to the customer so our story doesn’t get lost in translation.”

Rock House Creamy Special Projects Coordinator Haley Gilleland

 What sets Rock House Creamery apart from any other milk-producing entity? That would be the process that turns out milk products which have been pasteurized but not homogenized. In other words, the cream is not separated out via homogenization and will still be present in the packaged product.

“All milk in the state of Georgia has to be pasteurized,” Kennedy said. “We heat the milk to 145 degrees and hold it there for 30 minutes, but after that, we do not go into the homogenization to separate out the cream, so you have to shake up the milk, but the result is an incredibly rich, tasty product.”

Indeed, anyone who qualifies as a chocolate lover needs to be on high alert for the Rock House Creamery New World Chocolate Milk. It is produced in the gourmet European style, rich in cocoa and lighter on sugar. One would be hard-pressed to find finer chocolate milk anywhere, even at San Francisco’s famed Ghirardelli chocolate factory. 

Local residents may wish to visit the Rock House Creamery, located at 2471 Broughton Road just outside of Newborn. For an introductory look at its products and the venues throughout the area which carry them, visit the creamery online at rockhousecreamery.com. However, a visit in person reveals the care that goes into the entire operation from top to bottom and turns pages in the chapter of a book still being written every day. 

“We do conduct tours of the facility,” Gilleland said, “and [we] have hosted FFA groups, pre-school groups, private tours for folks interested in learning more about local dairy operations and senior citizens groups.”

While the creamery is a working dairy farm and not oriented toward handicapped access, the operation is accessible to virtually anyone. Rock House Creamery is more than just a dairy and more than just a producer of a unique line of milk products. It stands as a throwback to the era of mom-and-pop dairies that so many farmers in this area established long ago. The employees are proud of what they do and what they produce, and they reap rewards not limited to dairy products.

“We have a certified, naturally grown garden from which our employees benefit with fresh fruits and vegetables,” Kennedy said. “It’s certified the same way an organic garden is adjudicated, and our employees have full access.”

Sales have grown exponentially since the establishment of Rock House Creamery in March 2017. Indeed, Christmas sales of milk and cheese were so good that expansion sounds like a real possibility. For now, it pays homage to the way things used to be done and serves as a testimony to excellence.

“This is what we call our Pilot Plant,” Kennedy said, “and although we are exploring building a bigger operation, we don’t want to get too big too fast, as quality control is always first on our list; but we are proud that our New World Chocolate milk won the ‘Flavor of Georgia’ contest, held annually by the University of Georgia, in 2018; and as the New Year dawns, who knows what the future holds.” 

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