A few times a month, milk — 150 gallons of the nearly 6,000 gallons produced daily by McClelland's Dairy's 850 cows — is driven down the road to a buttery built in 2006 at St. Anthony's Farm. There, the chilled milk is separated, the cream is pasteurized, and the skim milk returned to the ranch to be sold in bulk.
The thick cream is pumped a short distance from the vat pasteurizer to a shiny tumble churn, a steel cylinder that rotates the cream as, like magic, it becomes rich, luscious butter. Sea salt from Brittany is mixed into the new butter, which is then gently scooped out by hand.
The butter is packaged in 8-ounce plastic tubs, 1-pound blocks and new 8-ounce rounds, available in chocolate-brown reusable crocks and separately, as refills for the crocks. This summer, the plastic tubs will be phased out.
This butter, described as European in style, has 85 percent butter fat, about 4 percentage points more than most commercial butter in the United States, where butter is required to have a minimum 80 percent butterfat. In Europe, 85 percent is the norm.
Although in today's anti-fat climate it may seem counterintuitive, the higher the butterfat, the better the butter; everything else is simply water, milk solids and impurities.
McClelland's Dairy's butter was launched in April, 2009. The new rounds came this spring. It is considered among the best butters made today and is prized by chefs, including Stephanie Rastetter of Water Street Bistro, the first to use it.
"It's the pretty butter," Chef Rastetter said, "the happy butter. I love it."
The butter first appeared at farmers markets and is now also available at supermarkets in the Bay Area and beyond, including in Oregon and Washington, shining the public spotlight on McClelland's Dairy. But the farm's history stretches back decades and across an ocean to North Ireland, where, in 1929, 19-year-old Robert McClelland was inspired to leave his homeland for America.
After working a variety of jobs, in 1938 he and his new wife, Lillian Wilson, bought a milk route in Marin County and before long established their own herd of Brown Swiss cows. McClelland's Dairy, with its slogan "From She To Thee," was born.
For a decade, Bob maintained the herd and delivered the milk, a rigorous endeavor that eventually cost him his health. He took a job with less stress for a few years but soon began building a new herd.
Their son Robert died in a tragic car accident at age 19, but in 1965, McClelland and his wife moved with their three surviving children — George, Rebecca and Saralee — to a ranch in the beautiful rolling hills of Two Rock Valley west of Petaluma. It's premier dairy country bathed in coastal fog.
Today George, his wife Dora and their youngest daughter Jana operate the dairy. Jana McClelland has worked there full time since she returned from Cal Poly, where she majored in Agricultural Business and Farm and Ranch Management, though her experience began much earlier.
Her parents gave her a calf when she was 5, a Holstein named McClelland Valiant Essey. She walked it around the ranch several times a week and showed Essey at the Sonoma County Fair that summer, which proved to be a pivotal experience.