By PATRICIA TALORICO
The News Journal of Wilmington, Del.
RISING SUN, Md. (AP) — To modern ears, it sounds like a fairy tale: Once upon a time, a uniformed man drove a truck and delivered glass bottles of cold milk to the front door. But the tale of the milkman seemed to be a story without a happy ending.
Doorstep milk deliveries across the U.S. disappeared almost to extinction about 30 years ago. The quaint, yet outdated, practice became as relevant as a rotary phone.
Eighteen months ago, Kilby Cream, a family-owned Cecil County dairy farm about 20 miles west of Newark, decided to bring back old-fashioned home milk delivery.
Ever since, it’s been a glass half full situation for the favorite companion of cookies.
Kilby processes and bottles milk from its own cows and currently makes weekly deliveries to more than 400 customers from as far north as Wilmington to as far south as northern Baltimore. And the numbers are growing.
“We have new orders coming in every day,” says Jessica Roosa, Kilby Cream’s marketing manager. “A lot of people love it for the nostalgia and a lot of people love it for the convenience.”
Roosa believes part of the appeal for this revived retro service is that it taps people who grew up with a milkman as well as a new genre of customers– those seeking local, fresh, farm-to-table products.
The Kilbys have a farming history that traces back more than 100 years.
Since 1961, the family has owned 288 acres off Firetower Road in Colora, and in 1991, they purchased another farm on Strohmaier Lane in nearby Rising Sun. A store, featuring their homemade ice cream and other dairy products, opened in 2005 on the Rising Sun site.
The motto on the Kilby milk bottles charms conscientious foodies: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.
Home deliveries also aid busy, time-stressed families, Roosa says. “It takes out that need to go to the grocery store.”
There is a cost for the privilege of drinking nostalgia: a $3 delivery fee. A $2 deposit, which is credited back to accounts, is required for each glass bottle.
Kilby offers whole, skim, 2-percent, chocolate and strawberry milk. Prices range from about $2 per quart to $3 for half-gallon jugs. (Glass gallon containers are no longer manufactured in the U.S.)
Indeed, it’s a little steeper than some stores. A gallon of whole milk at a New Castle County grocery store this week was a little more than $4.
Kilby also sells cream line, whole milk that is not homogenized so the cream rises to the top of the bottle.
“It’s the closest thing that Maryland has to raw milk,” Roosa says. (Maryland bans the sale of raw milk.)
Other dairy products produced by Kilby: heavy cream ($4.50), half-and-half ($4), three kinds of butter ($3) and more than 20 flavors of ice cream ($3.50 per pint).
Seasonal products include egg nog ($3.50 to $6) and apple cider and apple cider doughnuts from Milburn Orchards in Elkton. And, delivery is not limited to dairy products.
Customers, who place orders online at http://www.kilbycream.com or by calling (410) 658-2614, can order other products from local farms and business such as eggs, bacon, sausage and bread baked by Newark’s Great Harvest Bread Co.
Roosa says Kilby plans to offer yogurt and cheeses soon.
Convenience Led To Delivery’s Death
Kilby family members, who all live within a mile of the two farms, have become guardians of the nearly lost tradition of home-delivered milk. No dairies in Delaware offer the service.
Hy-Point was the last Delaware dairy to offer home deliveries, according to News Journal files. It began phasing out the service in the late 1970s, the same year it switched from glass bottles to cartons and plastic containers. Its final delivery was likely in the mid 1980s, says Hy-Point owner Jay Meany.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, home milk delivery for consumers was at 29.7 percent in 1963, but by the 1990s it had dwindled to less than 1 percent of the market.
Meany says in Delaware home deliveries died out because of the ease of buying milk from convenience stores and “not enough people were willing to pay the price” for doorstep service.
Would Hy-Point ever bring back the milkman?
“At this moment, I would say, no. Would there be a niche for it? I don’t know with the cost of fuel and the expense,” Meany says. “I don’t forsee it in the near future.”
Yet, the milkman has continued making rounds in a smattering of other states including Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Washington, Massachusetts and some areas of Pennsylvania.
Molasses Is The ‘Secret’ Ingredient
The pure taste of a glass of Kilby milk tells the story of its Colora farm that is home to about 500 head of Jersey and Holstein cows. The heifers are at the Rising Sun farm.
The cows are milked three times a day at the Colora farm, which is in operation 24 hours a day.
The farm also has about 40 bottle-fed calves. The calves don’t get names– their ears are tagged with numbers and the date of their birth– but “they all have personalities, just like kids,”
The cows are fed a grass diet along with corn silage, grain and molasses, which the Kilbys considered “the secret ingredient.”
They are not given growth hormones or feed containing antibiotics.
The milk is “not organic, but it’s as natural as can be,” says company president Lisa Kilby, who adds that milk is minimally processed at pasteurization.
“My husband says the stuff at the grocery stores tastes cooked.”
The 2-percent milk is the most popular. The milk is bottled in glass because it tastes best that way, Kilby says, and it keeps cold longer. The bottles also can be recycled.
The Kilbys have two trucks for home deliveries.
“It’s not enough,” Kilby says. The farm is currently in the process of adding a third one.
Home delivery takes place Monday through Friday. Delaware routes are reserved for Thursdays and Fridays.
The Milkman Now Wears Black
Ruben Argudo is one of Kilby’s two milkmen.
A former cafe owner, he doesn’t mind hard work nor starting his day at about 4:30 a.m. Over the course of the day, Argudo will hop in and out of a van painted white and black like the distinctive markings of a Holstein. He’ll visit between 55 to 65 homes.
Argudo, friendly and personable, enjoys chatting with customers along his daily route.
“This was supposed to be part-time,” he says of the job that he has been doing since last August. In that time, Argudo has watched the business grow. “It’s more than doubled. Almost every day there is a new customer.”
Argudo, 60, doesn’t sport a spiffy white suit and hat of the milkman of old. This morning, he has on a black Kilby Cream baseball cap, a black Kilby Cream T-shirt and a pair of shorts and sneakers.
After pulling the van into the driveway of a home in Wilmington’s Highlands neighborhood, he hops out and is greeted by two barking dogs at the gate.
“Hey, guys! How are you?” he says, bending over to pet their heads.
So far, aggressive dogs haven’t been a problem, though he says, “I got scared one time.”
Argudo checks his clipboard for the customer’s order and begins lifting glass bottles of milk, nestled on top a thick bed of ice, from the back of the van. Ice cream, meats and eggs are stored in coolers.
“It’s wonderful to have this every week,” says Meg Holden, a Kilby Cream customer since May.
Holden’s order is usually two dozen eggs along with whole milk and chocolate milk.
“My kids say it tastes like melted chocolate ice cream,” says Holden.
The pair chats briefly and Argudo waves to one of the Holden’s children who is peeking out of the back door.
“Thanks, Ruben. See you soon!” Holden calls out before as Argudo heads back to the van.
Not everyone is home to greet the milkman. That’s why Kilby asks that home owners provide their own coolers so the products can stay cold. (Customers who order ice cream must be home for the delivery.)
Roosa says there was talk about Kilby providing coolers for customers, but she says that costs would escalate. And while some people like to set out old-fashioned galvanized steel insulated milk boxes, Roosa says that modern coolers are really best.
If a customer forgets to leave a cooler, Argudo will call and try to make a return trip or leave the delivery with a neighbor.
During one Wilmington delivery, Argudo knocks on the door and gets no answer. There are empty milk bottles on the front step, but no cooler.
“It’s the summer. Sometimes, they play in the backyard,” Argudo says making his way to the back door.
Still, no answer. “This is the first time this has happened,” he says, frowning. “She probably had to run out because normally she’s here.”
Argudo takes the milk to a neighbor across the street and later leaves a phone message, letting the customer know where he has delivered the milk.
Not all deliveries are left on the front step. Some customers give Argudo instructions to leave their deliveries in backyards, on porches or inside garages.
Argudo remembers fresh milk delivery from his childhood, though his version of the milkman may be a little different than others.
While staying with his grandmother in Ecuador, Argudo recalls the milkman knocking on the door. His grandmother gathered glass tumblers and then opened the door. There stood a man with a cow. The man milked the cow directly into the glasses that Argudo’s grandmother handed to him. She then gave a glass to each of her grandchildren.
“The (Kilby) cream line tastes like that to me,” Argudo says.
Creating Childhood Memories
Some Kilby Cream customers have vivid milkman memories– Argudo estimates about half of his customers are retirees– others are looking to create new ones.
Argudo says sometimes customers will call and ask if he can let them know when he will be at their home so their children can answer the door. “They say, ‘Oh, he’s never seen a milkman before.'”
Kilby Cream customers Kathy and Greg Thompson say they didn’t grow up with a milkman making deliveries to their homes, though Greg faintly recalls, maybe, an egg man. But the Holly Oak Terrace couple want their daughter, Sara, 7, to know what it is like to have someone delivering farm fresh milk to the doorstep.
The couple has ordered milk, wheat bread, bacon and eggs and they have been trying different flavors of ‘adult’ ice cream such as Chambourcin, made with red wine, and White Russian.
“I’ve been very pleased with it,” Kathy says. “We really love their stuff.”
“It’s just like the old days,” Greg says.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)