In 1955, when companies were unveiling such high-tech marvels as microwave ovens and wireless television remotes, Tom and C Scott Mayfield were investing in a lesser-known technology.
The Mayfields banked on a new vacuum heat technology guaranteed to yield a better-tasting milk. Five years after mortgaging the family farm to build the Southeast’s first modern milk processing plant, the sons of dairy founder T B Mayfield Jr purchased the nation’s first vacreator—a vacuum processor used to remove unwanted flavors and odors from milk—for installation in their Athens TN milk plant.
“The taste of onions and other strong flavors in a cow’s diet alter the taste of milk,” said Scottie Mayfield, president. “When we first began using the vacreator to remove unwanted flavors, it was instant success. Sales jumped 25% that year.”
Mayfield is the only dairy in the nation that still uses a vacuum heat process to pasteurize milk. Many in the industry have used the technology only to abandon it in search of less-costly processing solutions. In the late 1990s, the dairy designed and commissioned the construction of more vacreators for its milk plants in Athens and Braselton GA, after learning the machine was no longer being made.
The vacreator injects dry steam into the milk, raising the temperature from 160° to 168° F. The milk then enters the vacuum chamber where it boils. As it boils, the vapors containing the unwanted flavors and odors are removed and the temperature is reduced back to about 158° F. Conventional pasteurization is then resumed on the vacuum-treated milk.
The dairy’s standards for ensuring quality have earned it a place among the nation’s top branded milks. In areas of the Southeast, Mayfield’s share of milk sales is as much as 10 times the average market share of other branded milks. Mayfield claims nearly 45% of the share of total milk sales in its home base of east Tennessee.