edible traditions

BETTER BUTTER

Minden company thrived from 1908 to 1961.

WRITTEN BY ALICIA BARBER
PHOTO COURTESY OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO LIBRARIES

edibletraditions

At its heart, making butter is a simple task: Separate the cream from fresh whole milk, shake it hard until it thickens into butter, strain off the buttermilk, and break out the toast.

Requiring little more than a milk cow and a healthy dollop of patience, many of the earliest farmers and ranchers throughout Carson Valley and the Truckee Meadows in the 1850s kept themselves well supplied with this household staple. For the rest, a growing number of commercial dairy employees did the work, collecting milk and cream from neighboring stock or their own carefully tended herds.

The industry began to transform after 1900, with the introduction of pure food and drug laws to protect consumers. Pasteurization became sound business practice, as scientists proved that heating the cream after separation killed harmful bacteria that could cause rapid spoilage and souring of the butter or, even worse, transmit deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria.

Into this rapidly changing environment came the Minden Butter Manufacturing Co., opening in 1908 in the fledgling town of Minden. Within a few years, company employees were producing up to two tons of butter per day. Company trucks gathered cream from Carson Valley producers, and a company herd was comprised of numerous breeds, including imported Ayrshires, widely considered the thoroughbreds of dairy cattle.

 

From the beginning, Minden Butter found a ready market, not just in Nevada, but throughout California, where the company touted its New Holland process as the last word in scientific butter making.

In the years to follow, local jurisdictions began to pass milk ordinances, which required inspections of dairy cows and all facilities for proper sanitary practices. Reno adopted its in 1910, followed by Elko in 1921, and Sparks in 1923. City- and county-based inspectors assigned dairies rankings of Class A or Class B based on the health of their cows, the state of their living conditions, and the handling of their milk.

At first voluntary, the pasteurization of butter and ice cream became mandatory for Nevada producers in 1917. Those who could not afford the associated costs closed shop, but Minden Butter thrived, housed in an expansive new brick building designed by Frederic DeLongchamps. There, cream was weighed, tested, and poured into a pasteurizer, and after that a ripener, where it was cooled and held all night in preparation for churning into Grade-A butter the following day.

The company’s high standards paid off. In the 1930s, Minden Butter was the only supplier for San Francisco’s exclusive Fairmont and Mark Hopkins hotels. During World War II, the company won the contract to supply the newly established Reno Army Air Base with 100 quarts of its new Windmill brand of dairy products every other day.

The company closed in 1961, and the building was purchased by the Bently Nevada Corp., which still owns it today and is transforming it into a distillery. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, the factory stands as a reminder of The Famous Minden Butter, pride of Carson Valley.

Alicia Barber, Ph.D., is the author of Reno’s Big Gamble and editor of Renohistorical.org. She blogs about history and place at http://www.Aliciambarber.com

 

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