When I was younger, all I could think about was traveling and perhaps living somewhere other than my home state of Oklahoma.
When I reached college age, all I could think about was traveling and perhaps living somewhere within the region of Oklahoma, but certainly outside of the state. Arkansas? Colorado? I needed mountains. Or at least really tall hills.
When I reached thirty I took our children on short trips around the state and shared information with them about what sites were, the history behind them, and meanings attached to certain landmarks. I was glad our state had cool little places like Horsethief Canyon. For a mere $3.00 suggested donation, you can hike all day around the place and read about the “hanging tree,” imagine horsethiefs camping out by the river, and hang out with your family – which is probably the coolest part of all.
Now that I’m 47, I can’ t get enough of Oklahoma and the people living in our state. And stops like “Wagon Creek Creamery” in Helena, Oklahoma continue to proof this thesis for me over and over again. Can I tell you just how cool this local dairy establishment is? Julie and I were only there 30 minutes and I think I learned more about paddocking and the milk cow rotation processes than I’ve known all together my entire life. Our teacher? One of the co-owners. The classroom? His combination office and what looked to be a dining room of sorts. The students? Julie and I. And, man did we learn stuff!
Let me back up just a bit. We had left the Vintage Inn B&B early that morning in order to make one final stop before we headed back to the greater metropolitan life of Oklahoma City. We were nearing the farm and pulled into a small convenience store in Helena to double check our directions. If you ever want to find anything in any small town, just find a convenience store with booths and coffee in the morning, and you’ll find a group of locals who will get you where you’re going. That was certainly the case this time. I pulled up, ran in to the little place, spied a group of about 8 men crammed into two booths and a couple of them sitting on stools, ran over and said: “Hello there, local group of citizens. I need your help!”
They stopped talking, turned toward me, left unsaid what they were probably thinking, and gave me good directions. I was out of there in less than two minutes. I hopped back in the car, Julie was navigating again with her iPhone, and in about ten more minutes we could smell the cow manure. We were here! Wagon Creek Creamery! Julie had been on the phone with them that morning. I decided she was kind of like Radar O’Reily from M*A*S*H and “Rabbit” from the movie Twister, all rolled into one. She would call the people we were going to visit, set her GPS for the basic quadrants of their establishment, and guide me all the way. A driver is only as good as their navigation system, and Julie was a GREAT navigation system.
When we pulled up, Julie immediately said, “Horsie!” and goes out to take photos of the lone horse on the farm. I immediately start looking for people. I go around the corner, knock on the door, and am greeted by a teenage girl who happened to be feeding her younger brother breakfast. She welcomed us in, found out where her dad was and told us he’d be there in just a few minutes. When Ron (the dad) walked in I got a few immediate vibes: quiet (meaning, at ease with himself and life), answers questions thoroughly when asked (meaning – he’d been doing this for a long time and had tried many ways to improve his operation), and calibrating (meaning – sometimes when we would ask a question he would say, “Well, there’s a lot to that – do you want the whole answer, or just the basics?”) Of course, I wanted the whole answer.
Ron and Barbara Crain have been producing dairy products for a good long time. In fact, some of their family has been farming in the Wagon Creek area since the 1800s. And, they’ve had time to get it right. In order to brief you on a bit of their philosophy about grass-feeding cattle and why this produces better products, I copied a section from their website:
The farm is divided into 28 paddocks, each of which has its own water supply so that the cows can be kept in the pasture when they aren’t being milked. The cows are moved to fresh pasture regularly. They live in the field and the fresh air, as cows are meant to. There is growing evidence that milk from grass-fed cows is healthier than that from grain fed cows. (link to research: http://www.stockmangrassfarmer.net/cgi-bin/page.cgi?id=455 et. al.).
I think these smarts also rubbed off on their children. Evidently they had a couple in college and their majors weren’t run of the mill. One of them was nanotechnology or something along those lines. The young girl who met us at the door was a junior and was deciding where she should attend college (Julie and I are OSU alums, so you can guess what our answer to that discussion was!). And, I can see why education came naturally for the family – – we really did learn a great deal within the span of our thirty minute visit.
So, what did I learn after I got home with all the samples Ron provided? Ha! Warning: This post just turned into a commercial. I, Red Dirt Kelly, recommend pretty much everything Wagon Creek Creamery makes and I stand by that guarantee. Why? Because I ate it. And I loved it. Here’s my breakdown –
Wagon Creek Greek Yogurt: Stands up to the finest, thickest and least acidic I’ve had. European brands and the Greeks have set the standard, but Wagon Creek met it. I’m ordering it again. And again. And again.
Wagon Creek Butter: In the middle of winter, it is as yellow as it can be, and has such a rich butter taste I got mad at the butter I had been buying in the grocery store. Why was it white and tasteless? Well…see the above grazing paragraph! I was really disappointed in my previous butter, and now, feel doomed because a new standard has been set. I won’t be happy unless butter is like THEIRS and so I suppose they have a new customer. It’s beautiful.
Wagon Creek Pepper Jack Cheese: Extremely mild. The peppers they use are mild, the cheese is mild (I tried the fresh, but they have aged as well) and I’ve used in twenty different ways. Sprinkled on salads. Stirred into soups. Sprinkled on nachos. Eaten with crackers…you name it. We tried it. I’m going to try the aged next time because I want to see the difference. But, if you want a hot, HOT pepper jack cheese – don’t get the fresh. It’s too smooth…I mean, in a good way. And, if you want to get a pepper-hating person to finally consider the flavor of peppers, this is a great product to help break them in.
Wagon Creek Yogurt: I didn’t even get a sample of this, but I’m reviewing it anyway. Why? Because my daughter is a member of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, and she ordered too many containers to eat before the pull date. Actually, I’m sitting here eating it now because I just got it and wanted to try it before I wrote this post. Here’s what I think about it – there is no liquid to pour off…that’s a good thing. It’s a light, but full texture and I’m eating it my favorite way. How’s that, you ask? Bed of plain yogurt, topped with about 1/2 cup raw old fashioned rolled oats, about 1-2 teaspoons of brown sugar, plus pecans and dried currants. Without the sugar, it only has 120 calories per CUP. I usually eat about 1/2 cup of yogurt with my oats – a 1:1 ratio. I would put this plain yogurt against any other, and for most I would say, “get out of town…Wagon Creek is around!” Corny. And true.
Well, I just checked my word count and this post is already clocking 1,367. That’s unusually long for me considering I’ve been writing away and haven’t even let Julie start yet. To summarize, I’d just like to thank Ron and his family for allowing us to stop by on such short notice, and on giving us a glimpse of what we’ve seen in all the other stops before us: A recommendation on other places to check out down the road for our next trip. I adore this “trust and endorsement” theme I’ve seen through all the folks we’ve met, and can’t wait to get on the road again to find out more about the treasures in Red Dirt Country…and to tell their tales. Adios!
Kelly has just made me laugh out loud before I can even get started! I think it was the “Horsie!” shout out that got me, although it was entirely accurate. If there is a horse photo opportunity, It is a priority for me.
I was the phone person. I don’t know how trustworthy I sound on the phone at 6:30AM when I am saying to someone I’ve never met, “I want to see you milk a cow.” My credibility is questionable when I read it here, but it was the truth, and the truth counts for a lot in Oklahoma, at least I like to think so.
Our visit was rewarding in many ways. Ron spoke candidly about his farm. I could tell by his vocabulary (sorry, I’m a teacher) that he was a super smart guy. I’m glad he thought we were smart enough to understand what he was talking about! He highlighted some of the other small farming operations in the area and suggested we also pay them a visit. We just might.
Student? I’m in kindergarten when it comes to Greek yogurt. Ironically, I had just learned of its existence at Christmas dinner from my niece Jessica. I happened to bring some honey to go with the rolls and she mentioned how much she loved honey with Greek yogurt. I told her she could take the rest of my home-grown Tennessee honey home with her to eat with her yogurt. She forgot it. I am glad.
Wagon Creek Greek Yogurt: I’ve never had Greek yogurt until I tried this brand when I got home from our trip. I mixed it with some local Tennessee honey like Jessica suggested. Wow! It was so great! I also used it as a substitute for mayonnaise in my baked jalapeno peppers. On New Year’s Day, I knew I would see Jessica again (for the Yankee tradition of pork and sauerkraut…don’t ask), so I packed some for her to try. I considered her a connoisseur of sorts since she had introduced it to me in the first place. She loved it too! I cooked with it again when I made Parmesan chicken. P.S. I did not remind Jessica that I had once offered her the honey. I left it at home to mix with the rest of my Greek yogurt. That stuff is addicting!
Wagon Creek Butter: Butter is supposed to be yellow? Really? I never knew. All I know is that since that tub became empty, my oatmeal has never tasted the same.
Wagon Creek Pepper Jack Cheese: I never met a piece of cheese I didn’t like, and the cheese curds that Ron gave us were no different. I didn’t really understand what he was giving us when I collected the little bag of cheese crumbles. I now understand that there was another step in the cheese making process. I say, let’s just get to the part where I eat it and call it a day.
Oklahoma is home to some of the greatest people you will ever meet. It also has great cheese.
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