Stewart’s, Stoltzfus milks are cream of crop for 2020,according to statewide competition

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ITHACA — An upstate dairy chain and a local family dairy have risen to the top in a statewide competition.

Cornell University’s Milk Quality Improvement Program has awarded Stewart’s Dairy in Saratoga Springs with top honors in New York state’s annual fluid milk competition, leading a field of 21 dairies from across the state. Stewart’s also took top honors in the chocolate milk category.

Stoltzfus Family Dairy of Vernon Center was the creme de la creme in the flavored-milk category for its pasteurized, non-homogenized mocha and latte “cream line” milk.

The Cornell University program serves as the state’s official judging group, hosting the competition.

New York has nearly 4,000 dairy farms that produce nearly 15 billion pounds of milk annually, making it the nation’s fourth-largest dairy state, according to the Department of Agriculture and Markets. The dairy industry is the state’s largest agricultural sector, contributing nearly half of its total agricultural receipts.

“Congratulations to our dairy processors and our dairy farmers behind these fantastic products,” said Richard Ball, commissioner for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. “We know New York produces some of the best milk there is, and I am honored to join Cornell in sharing these stories of success with all New Yorkers.”

The awards — usually presented with significant fanfare at the State Fair in Syracuse — were presented online this year, a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“While I miss our annual gathering at the Great New York State Fair to celebrate our processors and producers,” Ball said, “I am grateful for this special online presentation and raise my glass of milk to all of New York dairy.”

“This annual milk competition is unique in that it considers the overall quality of fluid milk products throughout the entire time the product is on the market by assessing various characteristics, including – most importantly – milk flavor,” said Kathryn Boor, dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Stewart’s has won the competition five times previously, most recently in 2017, and has also finished second twice.

Garelick Farms, of Rensselaer, was the runner-up in the overall fluid milk category; Garelick was the 2019 winner and also took top honors in 2015.

Ithaca Milk of Interlaken won the top small-processor award for 2020; it won the same award in 2018.

Established in the early 1970s, Cornell’s Milk Quality Improvement Program is funded by state dairy producers through the New York State Dairy Promotion Order Advisory Board, a group selected by the commissioner to promote New York milk and dairy product consumption.

In the last 12 months, the Voluntary Shelf-Life Program, part of the MQIP, received 362 pasteurized fluid-milk samples, performed more than 4,800 microbiological tests and 675 sensory evaluations on those samples, according to Nicole Martin, the MQIP’s associate director.

Samples are subjected to microbial analyses, freezing point tests, fat determination and sensory evaluation, according to Rob Ralyea, a senior extension associate in food science.

New York is the only state to hold a regular milk-quality review for its dairy producers; it has done so since 1979.

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