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SALEM -- Owners of the Battenkill Valley Creamery were recognized for producing the highest quality milk in the state earlier this week at the State Fair in Syracuse.

The Salem-based creamery's milk was compared with milk from nearly two dozen milk producers by officials from Cornell University's Department of Food Science, who tested milk samples throughout the year before announcing the award earlier this week.

Seth McEachron, owner of the creamery, said on Wednesday that he was humbled to get the award just two years after the creamery opened as a complement to the family's dairy farm.

Milk bottling and processing began there in February 2008.

"I had set my sights on this goal from day one, so we're pretty excited to get it in just our second year," said McEachron, who represents the fifth generation of his family to work at the farm.

Testers from Cornell tested the milk for bacteria counts, the amount of butter fat, flavor and purity.

The samples were taken at various points in the milk's two-week shelf life.

On a 100-point scale, Battenkill's milk scored a 98.3 - an unusually high score for the 19-year-old competition.

"That's certainly an indication of a pretty quality product," said Steve Murphy, a

senior extension associate with Cornell who runs the milk quality improvement program and annual contest.

The recognition is particularly noteworthy because it is the first time a business that raises and milks cows, as well as producing its own milk for retail sale, has won. In the past, large scale bottlers like Stewart's have won the competition.

McEachron said he plans to use the distinction in his marketing efforts, including on new labels. The hope is the award will convince people who haven't tried the creamery's offerings to give it a chance.

"We're looking to really let people know that a local small farm producing and bottling its own milk can compete," McEachron said.

Battenkill's milk is available through home delivery and is sold in some area grocery stores.

It is also available at several farmer's markets in the region. In addition to white milk, the creamery makes chocolate and cream-top milk, as well as heavy cream, half-and-half and ice cream.

McEachron said he hopes the award is a sign of things to come - and possibly of more blue ribbons in the future - but he knows it also puts something of a target on his back.

"The one downfall here is that when you win, you're then expected to win again every year," he said.

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