From cows to creamery, it’s all in the Eade family
Words by Jennifer Kornegay
Photos by Tjsenn Photography
Ask Southern Craft Creamery owner Dale Eade which flavor of his handmade ice cream is his favorite, and he’s got a quip ready: “Whatever one I’m eating at the time,” he says. The self-described “coffee addict” is also a big fan of their coffee ice cream (incorporating locally roasted beans). But he’s yet to find fault with any of the more than eighty varieties of cold, creamy confections he and his wife create at the Creamery, which grew from their family dairy operation, Cindale Farms, and relies on its rich, creamline (non-homogenized) whole milk for its sweet cream base.
After managing a large dairy farm for other owners, Dale and Cindy founded Cindale Farms (the name is a mashup of theirs) in Marianna, Florida, in 1994, and for years, the couple searched for a way to increase revenue with a value-added product. And yet, they’d never considered ice cream. The concept came to them via their daughter Lauren, who was working as a wine rep and connected her parents with an ice cream maker in Georgia looking for a local milk source.
After Dale and Cindy met with him, an idea began churning: Why not use their milk to make their own ice cream? “We’ve already got the cows that produce the main ingredient, and we can sell it the next day, or, if needed, store it easily, so ice cream was the fit we’d been looking for. But we knew we didn’t have the time,” Dale says. So, they asked Lauren and her husband if they’d tackle the new venture, and they agreed.
They spent a year experimenting with recipes to build the ice cream’s foundation—that sweet cream base. They attended ice cream school (yes, that’s a thing) at the University of Wisconsin and Penn State. They came up with the initial flavors and got the Creamy up and running. But then, opportunity came knocking for Lauren’s husband. “He’s a pilot and got the chance at a job that would let him fly. We wanted them to pursue what they really wanted, so they went for that,” Dale says. He and Cindy transitioned off the farm to take over the Creamery. They knew they were leaving it in good hands; their other daughter Meg and her husband Brad had joined the family business a few years before they started the Creamery. “We felt it was time to get out of Meg and Brad’s hair; they knew what they were doing with the farm,” Dale says.
Today, Southern Craft Creamery and Cindale Farms remain a family affair. Dale, Cindy, and both their daughters and their husbands own the two businesses together, and the Creamery still benefits from Lauren’s involvement in some matters, just from a distance, while the farm is benefitting from Meg’s and Brad’s expertise and hands-on management. (Meg has a vet degree and had practiced cattle medicine before coming home, and Brad has a Ph.D. in beef cattle production and nutrition.)
Together, Meg and Brad oversee 500 head of cattle, including 300 milking cows, plus calves, breeding bulls, and a few steer. Compared to the average dairy herd of 1,500 cows, Cindale Farms is tiny, but that’s exactly how the family wants it. “When we left managing the other dairy farm to start ours, we knew we did not want to get so big we had to milk twenty-four hours a day,” Cindy says. “That just cuts into family time, which matters greatly to us.” There are not many small dairy farms left due to continued rising costs, which is why the Creamery is a necessity. “We needed that vertical if we wanted the farm to stay small,” Meg says.
Southern Craft Creamery is helping the family continue its farming tradition, but Cindale is doing dairy farming differently. While most raise Holstein (the black and white cows you likely associate with milk), Cindale Farms raises Jerseys or Jersey-Holstein crosses (that are heavy on the Jersey genes). “We are pasture based, and Jerseys handle heat better and are a little heartier,” Meg says. “They’re kinda stubborn but really curious too, and I’ve always loved them.” Even though they produce less milk, what they do give contains a higher level of butter fat and more protein. “It makes for delicious ice cream with such a creamy texture,” Meg says. The farm practices rotational grazing, giving its cows a fresh patch of grass to munch on every day and also raises its calves with their moms, which is backwards for the industry. “Most farms separate the calves and moms pretty quickly, but our way works for us,” Meg says. She lists these factors as the things that set Cindale Farms apart and added one more. “Our land. We have a spring head on the farm, so we have great water, and we have a lot of woodlands that we work hard to preserve for wildlife. We don’t want just pasture,” she says.
Many of the Creamery’s ice cream flavors are non-traditional too; the rotating menu is a diverse mix of frozen treats Dale describes as “standard to kinda goofy.” The Creamery serves up the classics: strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan but also throws innovative seasonal offerings into the mix, such as sweet corn with a blackberry jam swirl made from crops grown just down the road and kumquat with the tiny, tart citrus fruits sourced from two blocks away. “We get almost all our ingredients from other area farmers and sources,” Dale says. “Last summer, we got some local squash and did a roasted zucchini ice cream. It sounds weird but was surprisingly delicious. We love to find new combos like that.” In early 2023, the Creamery made its first batch of mayhaw ice cream, a dream come true for Cindy. “I love mayhaw jelly but could never find enough to make ice cream, so I planted some and this year got my first crop big enough to use. It may be my new favorite,” she says.
Keeping things smaller gives the family the control they want, ensuring the favorites (theirs and their customers’) keep coming. While the Creamery has a retail store, Dale and Cindy do all ice cream deliveries. They bottle their own milk and sell it at the store. Doing it all can prove challenging. For Dale and Cindy though, it’s worth it. “The learning curve for ice cream was sharp,” Dale says. “It’s so different from agriculture it’s almost staggering, but it’s rewarding to learn something new and yet still draw on what we’ve learned from farming. Plus, we wanted to educate consumers on the value of family farms and knowing where their food comes from. Our ice cream provides the perfect vehicle to do that, and it’s really fulfilling.”