|Top: Miriam Erickson Brown-CEO of AE Dairy & me!|
Middle: The beginning of the AE Family Dairy in the 30's
Bottom: At the AE Facility a display of all the packaging and products AE has had over the years.
Hi friends I'm super excited to share that I have become a brand ambassador for AE Dairy and will be sharing delicious recipes made with AE Dairy products all year long! When this opportunity was presented to me I knew it would be a perfect fit for Handmade in the Heartland. AE is a Midwest company based in Des Moines Iowa and at our house we love dairy. I had the opportunity to drive up to Des Moines and tour the AE Dairy headquarters and meet the CEO and granddaughter of the founder, Miriam Erickson Brown. It was a fabulous day and I'm excited to share the details with you.
AE Dairy is truly a family run company with Miriam as the CEO, her brother Warren as the CFO and her dad Jim sits on the board and has been around the dairy his entire life. I was a little surprised that the CEO herself took the entire morning to personally show me around the facility and tell me about the dairy. Their passion and love for what they do was very apparent and contagious! I don't think I'll ever buy another brand of dairy!
I was lucky enough to visit the AE Dairy on a Thursday. Thursday is taste testing day. AE has a standing weekly meeting with the top department heads at the plant to taste each product batch that was made that week. As you can see in the photos below the staff all sit around a table with a pile of plastic spoons in front of them and pass around each container of yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream and all the amazing flavors of sour cream dips. Most of what is tasted are batches of product that are going out to grocery stores, however this is also the place where they have tried and tried and tried new flavors until they were just perfect enough to put out into full production. The AE Dairy team is always inventing new unique flavors of yogurt and sour cream dips to delight its customers. One of my favorites was peach apricot vanilla low-fat yogurt, I'm sure you'll be seeing it pop up in a recipe this year!
Miriam spoke about how getting flavors just perfect is something they are very serious about. Taste their vanilla and you will see what I'm talking about. She wanted a vanilla that tasted just like a deep rich Madagascar vanilla, and it does. I was told it took a very long time to get that flavor just right, and it clearly pays off- I've never tasted a yogurt with such a true vanilla taste. As a foodie and someone who appreciates great flavors I loved hearing about their commitment to creating the perfect taste in each flavor that AE makes. Miriam and Kim, the marketing director, are the minds behind new flavors and often come up with new ideas from the farmers market, restaurant dishes they taste and anywhere else they might find inspiration for a new AE creation. This brand is dedicated to discovery and creativity and bringing delightful new surprises to its customers.
|Taste testing at the AE Dairy plant was the highlight of my tour.|
After the milk is unloaded it is pasteurized and then separated. I learned that heavy whipping cream can be different depending on the brand you buy- AE's is 40% butterfat with no emulsifiers or anything added to it to make it whip, where other brands do add in agents to help it whip that have a lower butterfat content. On the ingredient list on the side of a AE heavy whipping cream container you'll only see 1- cream.
A pride of the AE facility is the lab (pictured below) where every product and batch is tested for quality. Miriam spoke about how this was a dream of her grandfather, Iver Erickson, to have their own stand alone lab where they could make sure that each and every product was the best it could be. They keep one of every batch made in a cooler until its expiration date to make sure it lasted. They even keep it at a slightly warmer temperature than your fridge would be to make sure that even under a worse condition it would still be ridiculously good for as long as they promise it will be.
Have you ever seen an assembly line machine? Bottle filling machines are fascinating to watch and at AE they have an abundance of them for all the products that they create. You've got carton milk for schools and cafeterias, jugs of milk for grocery stores, and bottles of milk to take on the go. The plant is a sea of stainless steel machines that are constantly cleaned and kept in perfect shape to assure quality. The dairy is a constantly working plant that operates at almost 24 hours a day all week long, and employs over 500 people in the Des Moines area.
In the photo below you can see a cool part of the plant where the plastic milk jugs are created, yep, they make their own jugs too!
The most surprising part of the plant was the finish. As you walk through the plant you don't have a real grasp of just how much milk and dairy products are produced until you get to the "cooler". I put that in quotes because as we moved toward the cooler I imagined in my mind walking into a refrigerated room the size of maybe a large living room and oh how I was wrong. The cooler is really a warehouse, an extremely large warehouse that is chilled like a fridge. It's where all the products go right after they are packaged to sit for a short time before they are sorted to go out on a truck to where they have been ordered. You can see in the photos below the very large cooler!
The photo below is the last stop, all those stacks of crates are about to be loaded on to trucks for delivery. I was surprised to also learn that AE only makes enough of each product for which they have orders for in the next day or two. Each flavor of yogurt and carton of whipping cream that is created in the Des Moines facility is shipped out immediately, if you can imagine that yogurt you're eating was probably just being milked from a cow less than a week before arriving on your table. Pretty incredible.