RISING SUN — To modern ears, it sounds like a fairy tale: Once upon a time, a uniformed man drove a truck and delivered glass bottles of cold milk to the front door.
But the tale of the milkman seemed to be a story without a happy ending.
Doorstep milk deliveries across the U.S. disappeared almost to extinction about 30 years ago. The quaint, yet outdated, practice became as relevant as a rotary phone.
Eighteen months ago, Kilby Cream, a family-owned Cecil County dairy farm about 20 miles west of Newark, Del., decided to bring back old-fashioned home milk delivery.
Ever since, it’s been a glass half-full situation for the favorite companion of cookies.
Kilby processes and bottles milk from its own cows and currently makes weekly deliveries to more than 400 customers from as far north as Wilmington to as far south as northern Baltimore. And the numbers are growing.
“We have new orders coming in every day,” says Jessica Roosa, Kilby Cream’s marketing manager. “A lot of people love it for the nostalgia and a lot of people love it for the convenience.”
Roosa says part of the appeal for this revived retro service is that it taps people who grew up with a milkman as well as a new genre of customers — those seeking local, fresh, farm-to-table products.
The Kilbys have a farming history that traces back more than 100 years.
Since 1961, the family has owned 288 acres off Firetower Road in Colora, and in 1991, they purchased another farm on Strohmaier Lane in nearby Rising Sun. A store, featuring their homemade ice cream and other dairy products, opened in 2005 on the Rising Sun site.
The motto on the Kilby milk bottles charms conscientious foodies: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.
Home deliveries also aid busy, time-stressed families, Roosa says. “It takes out that need to go to the grocery store.”
There is a cost for the privilege of drinking nostalgia: a $3 delivery fee. A $2 deposit, which is credited back to accounts, is required for each glass bottle.
Kilby offers whole, skim, 2-percent, chocolate and strawberry milk. Prices range from about $2 per quart to $3 for half-gallon jugs. (Glass gallon containers are no longer manufactured in the U.S.)
Indeed, it’s a little steeper than some stores. A gallon of whole milk at a New Castle County, Del., grocery store recently was a little more than $4.
Kilby also sells cream line, whole milk that is not homogenized so the cream rises to the top of the bottle.
“It’s the closest thing that Maryland has to raw milk,” Roosa says. (Maryland bans the sale of raw milk.)
Other dairy products produced by Kilby: heavy cream ($4.50), half-and-half ($4), three kinds of butter ($3) and more than 20 flavors of ice cream ($3.50 per pint).
Seasonal products include eggnog ($3.50 to $6) and apple cider and apple cider doughnuts from Milburn Orchards in Elkton.
And, delivery is not limited to dairy products.
Customers, who place orders online at www.kilbycream.com or by calling 410-658-2614, can order other products from local farms and business such as eggs, bacon, sausage and bread baked by Newark’s Great Harvest Bread Co.
Roosa says Kilby plans to offer yogurt and cheeses soon.
Kilby family members, who all live within a mile of the two farms, have become guardians of the nearly lost tradition of home-delivered milk.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, home milk delivery for consumers was at 29.7 percent in 1963, but by the 1990s it had dwindled to less than 1 percent of the market.
The pure taste of a glass of Kilby milk tells the story of its Colora farm that is home to about 500 head of Jersey and Holstein cows. The heifers are at the Rising Sun farm.
The cows are milked three times a day at the Colora farm, which is in operation 24 hours a day.
The cows are fed a grass diet along with corn silage, grain and molasses, which the Kilbys considered “the secret ingredient.” They are not given growth hormones or feed containing antibiotics.
The milk is “not organic, but it’s as natural as can be,” says company President Lisa Kilby.
The 2-percent milk is the most popular. The milk is bottled in glass because it tastes best that way, Kilby says, and it keeps cold longer. The bottles also can be recycled.
The Kilbys have two trucks for home deliveries, and are in the process of adding a third one.
Kilby Cream customers Kathy and Greg Thompson say they didn’t grow up with a milkman making deliveries to their homes, though Greg faintly recalls, maybe, an egg man. But couple wants their 7-year-old daughter to know what it is like to have someone delivering farm fresh milk to the doorstep.
The couple has ordered milk, wheat bread, bacon and eggs and they have been trying different flavors of “adult” ice cream such as Chambourcin, made with red wine, and White Russian.
“I’ve been very pleased with it,” Kathy says. “We really love their stuff.”