Keeping the milk flowing
A giant milk bottle behind the Cloverland Dairy was a familiar landmark in the 3400 block of South Carrollton Avenue from the 1920s to the ’60s. Made of metal lined with tar, it held 35,000 gallons of water, used for washing milk trucks. Today, all that remains of the ornate Cloverland Dairy main building, designed in ’23 by Favrot and Livaudais architects, is the façade. It is now a U.S. Post Office and has been since the ’80s.
At one time New Orleans could boast numerous small dairies. Being sure that those dairies sold a safe product was a real concern. By 1870, the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Association issued a report on dairies that urged cleanliness (some dairymen were said to wash milk cans in the city canals) and advocated pure milk – adding water was a common complaint when milk was sold by the dipperful. By 1910, New Orleans had a Pure Milk Society, with Mayor Martin Behrman as a member. Gradually, laws required milk to be pasteurized and dairying had strict rules for cleanliness.
Some New Orleanians were slow to accept this. Walter Carroll can recall that when he was a boy, his mother only bought raw (unpasteurized) milk from the Norwood Dairy on the Westbank. Times were changing. The Cloverland Dairy had been one of the earliest local firms to pasteurize milk, and its new 1923 building had up-to-date equipment.
Prior to 1900, Cloverland had been founded in St. Bernard Parish by dairy farmer George Villere and his wife Leontine. By ’07, Villere was purchased the New Orleans Pure Milk Company dairy and moved to Tulane Avenue. In ’43, Cloverland enlisted the aid of investment firm Villere and Company (not close relations of George) to issue a prospectus to expand again. St. Denis Villere III has a copy of that prospectus on his office wall today.
In 1950, Cloverland was sold to Sealtest. Other local dairies also went out of the hands of the founding families and became part of large corporations. Brown’s Dairy (once Brown’s Velvet and founded in ’05) is now a part of Dean Foods Company, as is Barbe Dairy.
Gold Seal Creamery’s building at 520 S. Alexander St. has been remade as the Gold Seal Lofts, offering industrial design for trendy households.
Salvador “Sam” Centanni’s father had a small dairy, and when Sam married in 1920, he opened Gold Seal Creamery on South Alexander. The current modern building he built in ’54 served as the dairy until it ceased operations in ’86.
The Centanni home on Canal Boulevard was known for its lavish Christmas display, some of which is part of Celebration in the Oaks in City Park. Son Sammy Centanni, like his six siblings, worked in the dairy, was vice president of the company, did the chemistry, made out the payroll and even drove a truck. Long days started for him at 6 a.m. “You never get finished – you just knock off,” he says. When the dairy closed, some of the milk routes went to Barbe’s and Brown’s Velvet.
In the days of the local dairy, there were still milkmen who made their morning rounds with glass bottles. (“I remember those little paper caps with all the folds,” says Joan Feibleman.) Even some apartment buildings’ hallways had tiny doors at eye level so the milkman could put a bottle inside an apartment cupboard.
One way to get milk delivered today is from Good Eggs (GoodEggs.com), which offers products from Mauthe’s Dairy, near McComb, Mississippi, operated by Kenny Mauthe and his wife Jamie. “I’m a third generation dairy farmer – the family had a dairy farm in the lower 9th Ward” Mauthe says. His father relocated to Harahan and then to Folsom. Mauthe himself now has a small herd and sells his products at farmers’ markets, the Hollygrove Market and Good Eggs. Mauthe tries to please his clientele. “We got the LSU AgCenter to help us get the Creole cream cheese recipe right,” he says.
Marketing milk today can involve large co-ops and corporations that deliver to supermarkets statewide. However, there’s still a niche for a small, quality dairy. Mauthe cut back from his herd of 150 and concentrates on producing a first class local product. His daughters are learning the business, too.
One thing stays the same: those cows have to get milked every day. “It’s a lifestyle,” Mauthe explains. “You’re committed.”