NEWBORN — If cows could high-five, some bovines in Newborn would do just that and maybe even add a little touchdown dance at the fence post. The milk that comes from cows at the Rock House Creamery in Newborn has been awarded best dairy product in this year’s Flavor of Georgia contest.

“We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to compete in The Flavor of Georgia contest against some of the state’s finest brands and new food products,” Rock House Creamery owner Keith Kelly said. “It’s an honor to have been chosen and affirming for all the time and energy we put into producing the product from formulation to packaging and marketing.”

Kelly is the owner of Kelly Products, a Covington-based holding company for 12 operating companies —including Rock House Creamery — all of which are focused around agriculture.

A vintage 100-acre dairy farm in Newborn, Rock House Creamery is an artisan dairy specializing in all-natural creamline milk. The dairy won the statewide competition for its chocolate milk, which starts with Rock House’s creamline whole milk. Creamline milk is a natural form of milk in that it is pasteurized, but not homogenized. It develops a creamline on top, so it has to have a little shake before drinking it. The recipe also uses West African cocoa beans.

Sponsored by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, the annual Flavor of Georgia contest had a team of food industry experts and grocery buyers judge its winners. They rated the products on a number of qualities, including innovation, use of Georgia theme, market potential and flavor.

“Quality products start with quality inputs,” Kelly said. “Our cows are a three-way cross of Holstein, Jersey and Swedish Red, which produce a milk high in butterfat for an exceptional flavor and finish.”

Winners were recognized at an event at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta where they were honored by Gov. Nathan Deal, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Science Dean and Director Sam Pardue. There were more than 125 products submitted this year in what organizers said was the “toughest competition” they had seen in the contest’s 12-year-history. Rock House Creamery’s New World Chocolate Milk was the top winner in the dairy category.

Stating its mission is to bring people all-natural, farm-fresh dairy products, the owners of Rock House Creamery in Newborn, Kelly Products in Covington and Farmview Market in Madison are part of a family that has been in the business of growing food and raising livestock since the 1700s.

A Georgia native, Kelly spent much of his childhood visiting relatives who lived in Newborn. The land he now lives on in Newborn once belonged to his family. For most of his life, Kelly has lived in Newton and Morgan counties and grew up helping his uncle on his farm. He went to UGA and majored in agriculture and business then started Kelly Products in 1993. This year the Covington company celebrates its 25th anniversary.

A member of the board of trustees for Truett McConnell University, Kelly and his wife started the Carolyn Williams Kelly Nursing Scholarship at Truett. He supports day camp for kids with cancer through Jay’s Hope at his farm each year and is a supporter of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. His new Farmview Market is the title sponsor of the spring classic this year for Children’s Healthcare. Kelly is involved with CURE International, Final Frontiers, Young Life, FCA and other groups. He and his wife, Pam are members of the First Baptist Church of Social Circle.

“Whether working on my uncle’s dairy farm as a young boy or providing fresh produce and proteins year-round to our employees from our local farm, agriculture has always been a big part of my life,” Kelly said. “What’s so incredible to see today is the evolving landscape of farming and how our changing culture is influencing our food system.”

In addition to Pam, Kelly’s family includes son Brad Kelly, his wife Larkin and daughter Martha; daughter Laura Rotroff and her husband Richard and son James, with Brad, Richard and Laura all joining Kelly in the family business.

The family also operates Rock House Farm, a large farm in Leesburg where they grow grass-fed beef, heritage hogs and heirloom corn that is milled into grits and cornmeal. Rock House Farm offers two varieties of heirloom corn, including Hickory King grits and cornmeal and Bloody Butcher cornmeal, a corn variety developed in the 1800s in Virginia. Hickory King’s yellow corn was developed in Appalachia in the 1800s. Kelly states that neither Hickory King nor Bloody Butcher have been used in commercial production in 100 years.

Brad Kelly manages the family’s farm operations as well as the organic garden in Newborn. Laura Rotroff is the marketing manager for all the Kelly companies and Richard Rotroff manages the new Farmview Market in Madison.

Farmview Market, located at 2610 Eatonton Road in Madison, is a specialty grocery store, full-service butcher shop, farm-to-table cafe and farmers’ market, all featuring locally sourced products.

In 2016, Kelly bought the Johnston farm which had been a family-owned and operated dairy in Newborn since 1940. He began producing creamline milk and hired Jessica Kennedy as dairy manager. Kennedy explains that the benefits of drinking non-homogenized milk include aiding the body in better digestion and properly utilizing the proteins found in milk. Rock House Creamery’s milk goes from its cows to bottles in 48 hours or less.

“We’ve found some people who can’t drink milk, but they can drink ours,” she said.

Kennedy is a former dairy inspector for the Georgia Department of Agriculture with a degree from UGA in dairy science. A West Virginia native who has lived in Covington for 28 years, Kennedy is the mother of two children and enjoys promoting agricultural education and family farms. She worked as an inspector on the regulatory side of the dairy business for the state before leaving and joining Rock House.

“It was a really good experience,” Kennedy said of her work with the state. “I learned the farm side of it and the nutrition side with the Department of Agriculture and the partnership with the FDA. I learned all the processes and how easily something can go wrong and how everything has to be as far as cleaning and everything and monitoring your equipment. I really enjoyed getting to know all the farmers and getting to see their kids grow up and the ups and downs of farming. I see this job as an opportunity to educate the public. We have field trips here … and support our local farmers.”

The farm offers tours of its Rock House Creamery and Garden where guests can meet the dairy cows, learn about the creamline milk process from cow to bottle and sample the milk and cheese curds. Visitors also learn about the vegetable gardens at The Garden at Broughton, which is adjacent to the creamery.

“To me, this prize is a validation that we do have the best product out there,” Kennedy said.

In addition to its award-winning New World Chocolate Milk, Rock House Creamery products include whole milk, buttermilk, wheels of Clack’s Chapel Cheddar and Concorde Tomme and containers of cheese curds and fromage spread.

Rock House Creamery and Rock House Farm products can be found in Covington at Bread and Butter Bakery, The Cork Boutique and Gifts and Town Square Olive Oil and in Mansfield at Blackwell’s Grocery and Burge Plantation. The products are also available at KiKi’s Bake Shop in Watkinsville; Piggly Wiggly in Eatonton; The Ritz Carlton at Lake Oconee; Good Earth in Augusta and in Athens at Heirloom Cafe, 5&10, Mama’s Boy at the Falls, Ideal Bagel and Big City Bread.

Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Walton County. Contact her at bethslaughtersexton@gmail.com.

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