Growing up in Claremore, my family lived in Oakwood, near Claremore Lake. My parents built the home upon arriving in town in 1981, and the neighborhood reached a couple of blocks south of our house. There, it stopped, and became…”the woods.”
Back then, “the woods” were located at the end of my best friend’s street; she lived around the corner from me. Faulkner Drive just stopped…and a muddy dirt road led into the cool, dark, mysterious, enchanted forest. (We were kids. Cut us some slack.) Many afternoons were spent exploring the area, but nothing exciting ever happened (except the time I fell into a ditch full of water up to my waist). But one day, we roamed a little farther, and the woods opened up to an endless sea of green….and cows. We had just discovered the property line for Swan Bros. Dairy.
That was the extent of my knowledge of the dairy. I have always known it was there, and my aforementioned best friend’s dad used to purchase milk occasionally. I vaguely remember a glass jug with a red handle.
So when I was contacted through moreClaremore a few weeks ago to come pay a visit, I jumped at the chance. After all, my toddler has been there twice, so he’s been there double the amount I have. There’s something wrong with that.
When I arrived at Swan Bros. Dairy, I immediately noticed the stream of customers. The front of the dairy boasts a pull-through driveway; customers pull in, enter the store, pay for their merchandise, and head back out the door. It’s quick and efficient. Being that I was planning to stay longer than a couple of minutes, I chose a regular parking space directly in front of the milking parlor. Or as I knew it then, a room with a large window and a sign that said not to enter if the cows were being milked.
The front door to Swan Bros. Dairy is a screen door, like you’d imagine on a farmhouse. The small front room contains a glass cold case filled with fresh dairy products; cheese, cream and milk. Behind the cash register is a walk-in cooler full of more milk. There is a shelf displaying “Made in Oklahoma” goodies, like raw honey from Oologah, Pepper Creek dip mixes from Lawton, and Walke Brothers barbecue sauce. They also carry Amish jams with flavors such as elderberry and jalapeño.
I asked to speak with Zach Hollingsworth, who had contacted me. Zach recently married Ashley, who is the fourth generation of family to work in the dairy. (Does that mean he married her for her “moo-ney?” Okay, that was bad. I apologize.) First, the couple took me to the room adjacent to where I had parked, which is actually called the milking parlor.
Swan’s cows are milked twice per day; once at 2a, and again around 1:30p. The cows are run through what I jokingly called the “cow wash” before entering the milking parlor. (Yes, my jokes are terrible. I’m aware.) Four cows at a time are hooked up to the machines, and are fed grain while they’re being milked. Apparently it’s a relief to have the milk released, and the grain is a nice change from grass. I imagine it’s like having a massage while being fed fine European chocolate. The milk runs through a glass tube, which serves to chill the milk, and then it’s deposited into an 1100-gallon tank. After that, it takes a long journey into the next room, where it hits the bottling machine, which can bottle 14 gallons of whole milk in just 60 seconds. Then it heads into the cooler. The fascinating part of this to me, is that the milk doesn’t travel more than about 40 feet, from the cow to the cooler. It doesn’t get fresher than that, folks.
Grade A Raw Milk is available for purchase every day in whole, skim and 2% varieties. On Mondays and Thursdays, fresh cream is available starting at 10a, but get there early because it will sell out quickly! A gallon of milk is $5. Cheaper than the grocery store, and a whole lot fresher. Plus, there are no taxes on milk, cheese or cream.
Another popular item at the dairy is cheese, which is Diane Williamson’s (Ashley’s mom) area of expertise. Both raw and pasteurized varieties are made on a regular basis. The raw milk cheese is aged for 60 days and the pasteurized for 14. Swan’s has two aging rooms just for cheese. All kinds of flavors can be found at Swan’s, like colby, cheddar, mozzarella and jalapeño. (This is the same cheese that has won numerous blue ribbons at state fairs, including Best in Show.) While I was learning about the cheese-making process, Diane asked if I had ever tried a cheese curd. Um, no? What is that? She reached into the cooler and pulled out a bag for me to take home and sample. The term “curd” doesn’t sound appetizing, but man, these things were delicious! I’ve been advised by several friends that I must try the jalapeño next time. I certainly plan to! It’s really a perfect snack, and they pair delightfully with Ritz crackers.
If you want to share the gem that is Swan Bros. Dairy with out-of-towners, you can send a gift pack. These include items like cheese, smoked sausage, jam and other Oklahoma products. There is a gift basket for every budget, as they start at just $21.00. They can be picked up at the dairy or shipped, but shipping only takes place in the cooler winter months. Hint, hint: your Christmas shopping is finished! You’re welcome. To place an order, please call 918-341-2298 or stop by the dairy. A complete list of gift baskets and pricing can be found on the Swan Bros. Dairy Facebook page.
The dairy first opened in 1923, by Ruby and Harley Swan, Sr., with one cow. Gradually the size of the herd increased, and they made a good living delivering the milk around Claremore. In 1951, the Swans started selling the milk at the dairy and sold the milk route. Harley, Jr. and his brother, Larry, bought the dairy from their dad in 1962, with Harley purchasing the entire operation in 1972. Remember the cheese lady, Diane? She is the daughter of Harley, Jr., and is the third generation to work in the dairy. Newlywed Ashley is the fourth, along with her brother, Jason, who also works in the family business.
Now get this: Harley, Jr., and his wife, Dorthy, still work at the dairy. Harley is 83 years old and still milks the cows on a regular basis. The success of the dairy rests in the legacy of this hardworking couple. Born in the white house just north of the milking parlor, Harley has been here all his life, and the Swans have seen a lot of change in Claremore over the years.
“I have been doing this all my life and I cannot see myself not doing this. I will keep doing this until I can’t do it anymore,” avowed Harley Jr. “My dad started this farm with one cow in 1923. From there, it grew. My brother Larry and I purchased it in 1962 and then I bought the entire operation. Larry still helps out.” Larry, 72, enjoys the connection to the herd.
There are only two licensed and inspected dairies in the entire state where customers can buy raw milk, and the other is hours away. People travel from all over to buy fresh milk at Swan’s. Luckily, we are blessed here in Claremore that we don’t have to drive for hours. And we don’t even have to walk through the woods to get there.
Swan Bros. Dairy is open Monday – Saturday from 8a – 6p. Closed Sunday. If you want to stop by and watch the cows get milked (possibly by Harley, Jr.!), show up around 1:30 in the afternoon. The dairy is located at 938 E. 5th Street in Claremore.
Keep it local, Claremore.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, this is what “the woods” look like now.