Just two years ago, a modest dairy farm tucked away in the remote hills of Newborn, Ga., was producing fresh milk primarily sold at local farmers markets and onsite out of a small unattended fridge, trusting the patrons to abide by the honor system and leave their payments in a designated mailbox outside after picking out their milk. What once was the Johnston Family Farm has now been transformed by the Kelly Family into the Rock House Creamery, an award-winning dairy boasting 100 cows and perfecting several popular milk and cheese products sold all over Georgia–including Athens, Covington, Madison, Augusta. and Atlanta.
“We have been producing grass-fed beef, heritage hogs and heirloom corn at Rock House Farm for several years, in order to provide high-quality food products to our local community. Rock House Creamery was a natural extension of our operations,” said Keith Kelly, owner of Rock House Creamery and Rock House Farm in Leesburg, Ga. “The Johnston family created a legacy of high-quality dairy products among local and regional consumers. We are also a family farm and want to carry on tradition their family started in 1940.”
In 2016, Russell Johnston, a second-generation farmer and last in his family line to operate the Johnston Family Farm, sold the 100-acre vintage dairy to The Kelly Family, an agriculturally-minded clan who also own Farmview Market in Madison and Kelly Products in Covington.
“We continue the tradition the Johnston family started more than 75 years ago – to offer the healthiest, tastiest dairy products to our local community,’ said Kelly, a Georgia-native educated at the University of Georgia.
Keith Kelly and his family have revamped the sprawling 100-acre farm into a fully functional–and expanding–dairy, featuring a large organic garden for employees to harvest fruits and veggies for themselves to keep and opportunities for educational tours. Brad Kelly, Keith’s son, manages the garden at the creamery as well as the Rock House Farm in Leesburg. The Kelly Family has upgraded the look of the creamery and is currently expanding the creamery’s facilities for milk and cheese production.
“It’s a brand new place with brand new products,” said Haley Gilleland, special projects coordinator for Rock House Creamery. “The whole farm got a facelift.”
While the look of the dairy has been revitalized, it’s the quality of the products that’s making a name for Rock House Creamery. According to the Kelly Family, Rock House Creamery is dedicated to producing all natural and fresh dairy products, specifically specializing in creamline whole milk. Rock House Creamery also offers gourmet chocolate milk, “old-fashioned” full-fat buttermilk, a spreadable fromage cheese, and hand-crafted cheddar, gouda and tomme cheese curds as well as aged cheese wheels. According to the Kelly family, their dairy products are not only healthier, but tastier.
“For us, this is a labor of love. We use time-honored, simple methods and the strictest quality standards. These are differences we feel good about, and you can taste,” said Keith Kelly.
But don’t just take The Kellys’ word for it. The Rock House Creamery has already won first place in a statewide competition conducted by the University of Georgia. Rock House Creamery won Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest in the dairy category this past April for its “New World Chocolate Milk.”
“We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to compete in The Flavor of Georgia contest against some of the state’s finest brands and new food products. It’s an honor to have been chosen and affirming for all the time and energy we put into producing the product, from formulation to packaging and marketing,” said Keith Kelly.
The winners were congratulated by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean and Director Sam Pardue at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta.
The Kelly Family believes the Rock House Creamery sets itself apart from most commercially-produced dairies by producing creamline milk, which is considered the most natural form of milk. The milk is heated at just 145 degrees, the lowest temperature allowable to be considered pasteurized milk.
“When we say fresh, we mean it. Our milk goes from our cows to the bottle in 48 hours or less,” said Keith Kelly.
According to the Rock House Creamery, its milk “is pasteurized, but not homogenized. Homogenization is the process after pasteurization where the milk is mixed and the cream line (or fat content) is permanently mixed into the body of the milk. Non-homogenized milk can aid the body in better digestion, and properly utilize the proteins found in milk.” Avoiding homogenization creates a rich creamline to rise to the top of every batch of Rock House Creamery whole milk. A little shake is recommended before drinking.” Some customers like to filter out the top layer of cream and use it for their coffee or tea. “It’s the old-fashioned way of consuming milk,” said Haley Gilleland. “ It’s minimally processed.”
Rock House Creamery’s methods help preserve more nutrients in the final product of milk–including potassium, calcium, and vitamins A and D.
The creamline milk is also the base for Rock House Creamery’s award-winning gourmet chocolate milk.
“It’s not just for kids,” said Keith Kelly, who noted the rich and unique flavors for African cocoa beans makes the drink a favorite among adults, too.
“By adding only highest quality ingredients, such as West African cocoa beans, you get a rich, complex flavor and a truly unique taste,” explained Kelly.
Kelly credits the top-quality breed of cows the creamery has procured to produce the creamery’s array of dairy cuisine.
“Quality products start with quality inputs. Our cows are a three-way cross of Holstein, Jersey and Swedish Red, which produce a milk high in butterfat, for an exceptional flavor and finish,” said Kelly.
Rock House creamery’s line of cheeses is also becoming a big seller for the dairy. Jessica Kennedy, manager of Rock House Creamery, diligently churns dairy’s whole milk into various cheeses, employing “old world techniques” to make fresh cheese curds and aged cheese wheels, as well as a spreadable fromage cheese. In keeping with the family’s brand, one of the cheese products, Clack’s Curds, is named after Keith Kelly’s late grandfather Clack Broach, who was a prominent member of the local community. According to the Kellys, “Cheese curds are the first step in the life of some cheeses. Cheeses like cheddar, for example, start out as curds before they are aged. When eaten fresh, and at room temperature, cheese curds have a slightly rubbery texture and make a squeaking sound when eaten. That squeaking sound lets you know they are fresh! Rock House Creamery cheese curds have a mild, salty flavor.”
But the Rock House Creamery isn’t finished yet. The Kellys are currently working with the University of Georgia’s Food Development Department to craft recipes for various ice cream flavors and kefir, a drink chalked full of probiotics to promote gut health.
Rock House Creamery hopes to launch the new line of ice cream by Fall of 2018.
“We don’t know all the flavors just yet. But we know we will have vanilla, chocolate and probably a peach ice cream,” said Gilleland.
While the Rock House Creamy team is focused on making healthy and tasty dairy products, the Kelly Family also hopes to get the local community “connected” to the food they eat from the farm by offering education tours and demonstrations.
“Visitors are invited to tour Rock House Creamery, meet the team and its cows, and sample a variety of Rock House Creamery’s fresh dairy products,” said Kennedy.
Visitors not only tour the grounds and taste Rock House Creamery products, but work the onsite extensive garden to harvest vegetables themselves and interact with the cows, sometimes even getting the chance to bottle-feed the baby calves on the farm. The children touring the farm are given the chance to make their very own ice cream or butter onsite. Rock House Creamery staff hopes allowing the public to interact with the cows and witness the process of dairy production will encourage consumers to familiarize themselves with the food they eat. “I came here because I wanted to see and help educate the public about the dairy story because there is so much misinformation out there about the dairy industry,” explained Jessica Kennedy. “We treat our cows here like family. Happy cows make healthy milk.”
“We want to get people excited about agriculture,” added Jessica Kennedy.
Rock House Creamery is located at 2471 Broughton Rd in Newborn. It is truly a family-owned and operated endeavor. Keith and his wife Pam Kelly, along with their children Brad Kelly and Laura Rotroff, all play active roles in the creamery as well as in the family’s other agriculture businesses. To find out more information about the creamery, visit: www.rockhousecreamery.com. To inquire about tour offerings or to schedule your group for a tour, contact Haley Gilleland at (770) 385-1187 ext. 283 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.