Moo-to-Market Journey

A Nevada dairy farm tracks its products from udder to ice cream

Isidro Alves’ day is almost over when most of us are taking the last sip of our sacrilegious soy lattes. He wakes up at 2 a.m. almost every morning (Sundays he sleeps in until 3) to milk 500 cows at his farm, Sand Hill Dairy, in Fallon, Nevada. Located about 60 miles east of Reno, Alves’ dairy farm is the only one in the state that has a fluid milk processing room on-site, producing whole and chocolate milk, as well as two types of cheeses (queso fresco and mozzarella).

“[Processors] never see a cow. And most dairy farmers never see the processing end of it,” he says. “We can trace our products all the way from cow-to-market.”

Emily Wilson

Dairy farmer Isidro Alves is passionate about his cattle. Photographer Emily Wilson notes how he pats each cow individually as he passes them in the pasture. She says his respect for the animals is clear.

That’s the story New York transplant and photographer Emily Wilson tells in her photo essay Desert Abundance, in which she tracks Alves’ milk from the udder all the way to the (now-shuttered) Art of Flavors gelato shop.

While Alves no longer delivers fresh whole milk to Art of Flavors, he is pushing to get Sand Hill products into retail locations and delivers to carriers such as the local Fallon Safeway, the Peppermill Casino and, to Alves’ surprise, coffee shops such as Coffeebar in Reno, where skim-drinking patrons are SOL.

Photos by Emily Wilson

“I didn’t know going in how much milk was used in a latte. I’m a black-coffee guy,” he says.

Coffeebar has fresh whole milk delivered three times a week. Baristas there have to shake the product before pouring it into the frothing pitcher because Sand Hill milk is non-homogenized. “That’s where you get the old-fashioned look,” Alves says. “The cream will rise to the top.”

Photos by Emily Wilson

Most milk is homogenized, with the fat blended into the product for appearance. Homogenization can cause lactose intolerance in some people because the process breaks down an enzyme that helps us digest milk, Alves says. Sand Hill also uses the lowest level of processing, called low-temperature batch pasteurization, to keep the original vitamins and enzymes intact, creating a richer flavor.

“I get a lot of old-timers [who] say it’s the milk they grew up [drinking],” he says.

Photos by Emily Wilson