CUMBERLAND COUNTY – Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.
That’s the thinking, at least, of the Mast family, operators of Sunrise Dairy near Mayland, a town 10 miles west of Crossville, that’s now retailing a number of locally produced milk products in Cumberland and surrounding counties. The Masts are Mennonite and often do things the old-fashioned way, including bottling milk in glass half-gallon and quart bottles.
The Mast family has operated a dairy for 31 years, up until this year furnishing wholesale milk to commercial milk processors. But in January, they began bottling and distributing their own labeled milk from their location on Bud Tanner Road, and the demand continues to increase as more customers appreciate their products and flavor.
The patriarch of the Mast family is John Mast, 74, who moved to Cumberland County in 1979 with a group Mennonites from Ohio. Mast said the family purchased the dairy farm in 1985 and has operated it since. The farm generates some 200,000 pounds of milk a month or around 23,000 gallons. The amount of milk going into retail operation has doubled from an initial 10 percent of output to about 20 percent now as their market expands.
John’s son, Tim Mast, along with son-in-law Marc Miller run the retail and bottling operations in partnership with the dairy farm. Younger members of the family also help out – which is typical in Mennonite families. Children are educated through the eighth grade, Tim Mast said, and then work in the family business. That includes teen kids Ryan and Kendra.
Currently, Sunrise products are available in four Crossville locations as well as Cookeville, Monterey, Sparta, McMinnville and Pulaski. In addition, the family sells at both the Knoxville and Oak Ridge farmer’s markets. Sunrise is currently looking for additional outlets, especially in Cookeville.
The Sunrise bottling operation includes a retail outlet one-half mile off Highway 70N on Bud Tanner Road; visitors can watch if they visit at the right time. Because of the Tennessee promotion of agricultural products, purchases at the store are sales tax free. In addition to the dairy products, the store sells beef and pork from neighboring farms. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and there is self service available at other times.
Current Sunrise products include its top seller, chocolate milk, and non-homogenized whole milk. The whole milk includes the cream that comes to the top – just like from the old days.
Other milk products are homogenized and include 2 percent, skim milk and strawberry flavored milk. Recently added to the product mix is buttermilk and butter, too. The Masts are hoping to add their own line of ice cream.
Sunrise Dairy milk is pasteurized, but uses the older vat method that brings milk to 145 degree slowly over 30 minutes, so as to not remove the good bacteria or enzymes. Other milk processors force the milk between highly heated metal plates up to 180 degrees to do the job faster, often at the cost of the milk’s natural flavor. Tim Mast proudly describes their best-selling chocolate:
“It’s not what we put in, it’s what we don’t put in it.”
The ingredients are simple: 2 percent milk, sugar and chocolate and vitamin that’s added.
Mast also said they’ve benefited from a trend to buy local and the drive to reuse and recycle. The dairy’s glass bottles keep plastic out of the landfills and are reused when customers return them – plus glass keeps the milk cooler longer. Bottles carry a $2 refundable deposit.
One unexpected issue, Tim Mast says, is customers keep the bottles for other uses at home. During a recent visit the dairy, a truck full of replacement glass milk bottles was being unloaded. The bottles come from Canada, he said, because the kind they use are no longer made in the U.S.