ALTHA (FOX 13) - Golden, cow-topped trophies line the walls of the Ocheesee Creamery, a tiny dairy that straddles Florida’s rural border between the Eastern and Central time zones.
Ocheesee has won many awards for both its great products and its open-door policy.
"You can come and see where your milk comes from; pet the cows if you want to,” said Pierre Wesselhoeft, whose family has run the farm for three generations. "We take pride in what we do and I think it shows.”
But now, the award-winning Wesselhoeft family is hoping for a victory it never wanted: A court win.
Ocheesee is suing the state of Florida over labeling guidelines, literally making a federal case out of the surprisingly disputed ingredients in “skim milk.”
"The state says there's nothing wrong with the milk. You can sell it. You just can't call it milk," Wesselhoeft said.
Ninety-seven Jersey cows roam the farm, feasting on grass. Twice a day they provide Ocheesee with its signature product: Milk.
Ocheesee bottles its milk in glass -- the old-fashioned way. In another throwback to the good old days, Ocheesee lets the cream rise to the top. It’s visible in the neck of every bottle.
“That’s what makes it real milk,” Wesselhoeft explained.
But that’s also where the controversy lies.
To make blue-ribbon ice cream and butter, Ocheesee skims the cream off its milk. What’s leftover is what many would call skim milk. And Wesselhoeft wants to sell it. But he says the state of Florida requires him to use a different name: Imitation milk.
"They want us to call it imitation milk, when it's the real thing," he complained.
The Florida Department of Agriculture declined to comment for this story, citing the pending litigation.
Wesselhoeft says the state told him the only way Ocheesee could label its skim milk “skim milk” is to add synthetic vitamin A, since the state claims skimming the cream removes too much of it.
"Because we don't add vitamin A, we can't call it skim milk,” Wesselhoeft said. “We have to call it imitation milk.”
Ocheesee’s loyal customers pay a premium for its milk because, Wesselhoeft says, they are particular about what they eat. So neither “imitation milk” nor “skim milk” with synthetic vitamins will sell.
"The customers we sell to don't want anything added back to the milk,” he said. “They want a natural product with no synthetic vitamins added back."
Wesselhoeft also said it would cost thousands of dollars to buy equipment that adds vitamin A – money his family simple does not have.
So, for now, every day Ocheesee makes butter or ice cream, Wesselhoeft gets rid of about 400 gallons of skim milk.
“We dump it,” he said. He adds it to the water that used to raise hay. It’s a sad day every day he does it.
Wesselhoeft hopes the court battle is swift. He’s eager to begin selling the skim milk instead of using it for irrigation.
"I'd rather see someone drinking it than dumping it on grass," he said.