Beyond Milk

Edaleen Dairy dips into its farm-fresh milk to churn out creamy scoops of moo.

STORY BY TIM NEWCOMB
PHOTOS BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF

Edaleen Dairy’s Mitch Moorlag

As parents hoist children over the counter to peer into the case of ice cream at any of Edaleen Dairy’s five Whatcom County locations, the simple act of eating ice cream turns family-centric — which is just how the family-owned and family-operated farm planned it from the start. Now, 40-plus years later, Edaleen continues its family-focus with the freshest of milk, Lynden-sourced ingredients, and sustainable farming practices that serve the best interest of the farm, its cows, and, of course, ice cream lovers.

In the shadows of Canadian mountains, Edaleen’s 1,600 cows fill countless gallons of milk containers for consumption around Washington. But the farm doesn’t use every drop of milk for drinking; it diverts eight percent of its milk production into some of the region’s most sought-after ice cream — minimally processed and stuffed with flavorful treats, such as Maberry Farm strawberries for an all-Lynden strawberry variety or Lynden Dutch Bakery brownie pieces for one of the dairy’s newest flavors, Vanilla Fudge Brownie.

But the ice cream’s calling card comes from the milk’s freshness, says Mitch Moorlag, Edaleen’s general manager. In 1975, Ed and Aileen Brandsma started bottling their own milk. Ed, who came to Lynden via Alberta and British Columbia, and Aileen, a Lynden native, merged their names to form the Edaleen moniker with a goal of farm-fresh milk. Almost immediately, though, the couple, who have now been married 53 years, realized that fresh milk also makes for outstanding ice cream.

That ice cream production started with a single machine that was only a little larger than the ones for home use — five-gallon batches at a time. Mitch, the couple’s son-in-law, grew up in Lynden enjoying Edaleen products. He learned the family business after marrying Karen and says that production has progressed to 50 gallons of a flavor at a time. It remains “very hands-on, still very non-automated.”

With Edaleen cattle now spread across fields north of Lynden, less than a mile from the Canadian border, the original Edaleen Dairy store remains nestled among barns and production facilities. The nondescript, down-home layout speaks to the focus on farming, but don’t expect rudimentary production. Edaleen oozes farm freshness — from earthy livestock and feed smells to the noise of machinery and production — but in a modern way.

The farm raises its own cows, introduces them into the milking herd, and grows and harvests the grass and corn that make up the main portion of the cow’s diet. The nutrient-rich waste liquid from the anaerobic digester, which breaks down cow waste to create enough power to run 450 homes annually and fertilize the growing crops. “Where that anaerobic digester fits into that puzzle,” Mitch says, “is it formally closed the loop of no nutrients or products going off the farm without being utilized.”

The quality shows up in the milk. Edaleen cows have a personal nutritionist on staff, who weekly tweaks their diets to improve health and milk production. “We are keeping her protein levels right, carb levels right, fat levels right,” Mitch says. The result is a consistent-tasting product. The “closed loop” also offers the freshest product, with milk moving from cow to finished ice cream within 48 to 72 hours and hitting retail store shelves within a couple of weeks.

“The industry standard is that ice cream is going to have a one-year shelf life in the freezer,” Mitch says, “but zero of ours is in the freezer that long.”

The work happens just a couple of doors and a few steps from where customers select ice cream from the freezer. It starts with a base mix of Edaleen milk, Edaleen cream, cane sugar, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. Mixed together and pasteurized, the concoction travels to a holding tank in the ice cream room, where the three-person crew extracts 50 gallons at a time for each flavor, of which Edaleen has about 50. Sometimes the base mix travels beyond Whatcom County to be used by Seattle metro-area ice cream shops as the base for their creations. (Mitch remains mum on the shops’ identities.)

The oversized stainless-steel tank dominates the ice cream room, but plenty of piping and mixing stations allow flavors to come alive. Creating a unique flavor starts with adding either chocolate or vanilla. Then comes the add-ins: candy, Maberry berries, those brownie bits, and more. The crew adds flavorings and mix-ins to the smooth ice cream as it runs through a freezing tunnel. The more the mix-ins, the trickier the process (the marshmallows in Rocky Road, for example, have a tendency to stick). A careful monitoring ensures a consistent amount of product intermixed throughout the finished container.

Mitch says the flavor list has a fluidity to it, with sales dictating when a flavor hits retirement. Plus, consumers love when a new flavor enters the mix, such as the recent additions of Caramel Apple Crisp —think pieces of caramel apple pie wedged directly into vanilla ice cream — Chocolate Explosion, Vanilla Fudge Brownie, and Peanut Butter Blast.

Edaleen makes all flavors in three-gallon and one-gallon cartons and chooses its top 19 flavors for the 1.75-quart container, all led by head ice cream maker Sara Bosscher. It rotates 16 flavors in retail dip freezers, each of the five store locations across Whatcom County with its own plan. Even with such a wide swath of flavors, vanilla remains the most popular, selling out of the retail freezers, but not the dip freezers. That’s where ice cream consumers have a bit more fun. From the hand-scooped freezers, expect Fudgy Wudgy — chocolate ice cream with a fudge swirl — to take the high mark.

As Edaleen grows its storied presence in Whatcom County and branches out across western Washington, the complexity of farming and creating ice cream comes down to the simple components that set Edaleen apart: a family focus on sustainable freshness.


Tim Newcomb is a freelance journalist based in the Pacific Northwest who has written regularly for Time, Sports Illustrated, Wired, Popular Mechanics, and more.

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