Alabu - Where Goats' Milk, Ingenuity and Family Come Together

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Can you tell me what's in the soap you washed your face with this morning?  How about that liquid shower soap?  No?  I didn't think you could.  Neither could I, but after spending the afternoon at Alabu Farm yesterday I can not only tell you what's in my soap but I can tell you how it's made.  Come along as I take you on a tour of Alabu Farm and the great things that are produced there.


Until our visit to Sharon Springs a year ago, I'd never heard of goat's milk soap but while there I purchased a few bars, more as a Sharon Springs souvenir than anything else.  I owed my neighbor a 'thank-you' for a good deed she'd done so I brought her two bars of soap.  When I gave them to her, she squealed in delight and said, "Oh, I'm thrilled.  I was running out of my goat milk soap and since I've been using it, everyone compliments me on my soft, young-looking skin." Hmmm....maybe I should use some, I though!  And I did.

Last fall the soap I'd bought in Sharon Springs ran out.  I decided to shop locally, and placed an order with a local company, Alabu Skin Care.  Right around the same time my blog had gotten me interested in farms so I contacted Alabu and asked if I might visit their goat farm and feature them in a blog.  Dean and Maryclaire Mayes, Alabu's owners, agreed but confessed that although they do own goats, they do not produce soap from their own goats' milk but I was welcome to visit anyway.  Well, yesterday that visit finally took place and although it was not at all the visit I expected when I initiated our meeting.....our visit was fun, fascinating and so much more than I could have ever hoped for.

Alabu International Headquarters, as Dean jokingly refers to it, is a home-based operation nestled on a beautiful pasture in Mechanicville, NY.  While that title may have been used in jest, it is not an overstatement.   Alabu is one of the larger manufacturers of goat milk soap today.  How does one get into the business of the production of soap, you ask?  Well it all started back in 1997 when Maryclaire, who already owned two goats, was enlisted by her friend and goat mentor to help her with a soap-making project.  Maryclaire's friend, Dottie owned nine milking does and was already selling the milk, freezing it and making cheese and yogurt with it and still had gallons left over.  So, she decided to try making soap.  Her first attempt was less than stellar so she called on Maryclaire to help her give it another go.  That batch came out better and when Maryclaire used it, she was immediately hooked.  She began making soap and giving it as gifts to family and friends and the response was overwhelming.  Everyone loved it.  Dean convinced Maryclaire to go into business selling her soap and that's how Alabu was born.
Dean, Maryclaire and "Alabu II"
In 1997, Maryclaire was making 9 bars of soap at a time.  By 2000, Maryclaire and Dean's little goat milk soap business became incorporated as Alabu.  Today Alabu sells it's products in all 50 states as well as 35 countries.  Dean and Maryclaire's son Hal got involved in the operation and their daughter, Nell, too.  Some days even their grandchildren help out.   I had no idea what such an operation might look like and was shocked and amazed at how much chemistry, engineering and science is involved in producing bars of soap.  Lucky for you......you'll be getting a sneak peak of the operation.

The thing John and I were most impressed with (aside from the fact that this couple is able to stay married while working side-by-side in a successful business every day) is the fact that Dean has engineered and created pretty much all of the equipment necessary to produce their products - which not only includes soap, but body and face moisturizers, and lip balm.  Honestly I'm pretty sure my mouth was wide open in awe the entire afternoon.  The other thing that really stood out was how immaculate and organized their production area is.  Because many of their customers have sensitive skin, Alabu goes above and beyond to ensure that every surface the soap touches during production is absolutely free of dirt or contaminants.  I'm not going into fine detail about the process...but trust me it's very cool and I'll provide a link for a video where you can watch the process.

Like any science experiment, ingredients are added, heated....then more ingredients are added.....and mixed.....

 Essential oils are added to some soaps for scent. 

Once the ingredients are heated and mixed to just the right temperature and consistency, the mixture is then poured into molds,

The molds are set aside, fan-cooled and later the soap is extracted and sliced.  Dean invented a very handy and ingenious tool for both the extraction and slicing process.....
 Notice above: A motor drives the pegs which push the oval cylinders of soap out of the molds. 
They can extract 5 at a time.
The same machine is then used to slice the soap into bars.  In case you're wondering, like I was, why they flatten the PVC pipe into ovals instead of making round soap using already round PVC....
oval bars fit in your hand better and are easier to hold!

 Soap needs to dry for 4-6 weeks before it can be used.  The longer a soap dries, the longer it lasts.
Here's some in the drying process.... 

Once the drying process is complete, bars are wrapped or boxed and are ready for customers.  All of Alabu's products are made with natural ingredients using no synthetic chemicals, additives, colors or dyes.  Alabu uses real goat's milk, not powdered.  Each bar of soap contains 1/4 goat milk (about 1 oz. of milk per bar).    What's so special about goat milk and why not powdered milk? "Unlike powdered goat milk, fresh goat milk is loaded with vitamins (D, B6, C, E), milk sugars, proteins, & butterfat. Goat milk also contributes a thicker lather to the soap than water (the common alternative), and is a natural source of Alpha-hydroxy acids. Recent studies indicate that Alpha-hydroxy acids rejuvenate your skin making you look and feel smoother and younger." (Taken from their website)  Because of the natural ingredients in goat milk soap, it is especially good for people with sensitive skin.

Alabu soap comes in several different varieties and scents as well as unscented.  They even make a soap especially for babies - Baby Me - which is unscented and extra moisturizing.  It is ideal for anyone with dry skin, itchy skin.  It has more olive oil than their regular formula making it extra mild.  They also make a shaving soap - the only soap in a round shape so it will fit in shaving mugs.  This has cinnamon essential oil which helps make the hair stand up!
Ready for sale.....




Remember in 1997 Maryclaire was making batches of 9 bars at a time?  Today she and Dean make four batches of 320 in a day.   That's a lot of soap.....and a lot of goat's milk.

 Here's a batch below waiting to be packaged.  Each batch is carefully numbered and meticulous records are maintained for quality control.  On the right are some of the other members of the Alabu Family!

 If you're as fascinated as me about this.....check out Alabu's video where they share the process:

Whether or not I'd had the opportunity to visit Alabu Farm and learn about the production process, I'd still be encouraging you to go to their website and order a few bars to try.  Actually, order several because once you try it, you'll go back and order more.  You WILL notice a difference in your skin - it'll feel softer and look smoother.  I swear!

Oh....Dean isn't the only entrepreneur in the family.  His sister, Marilyn Mayes Kaltenborn, wrote and published a book called, "An Unconventional Childhood,  Growing up in the Catskill Mountains During the 1950's and 1960's."  You can buy that on the website too!  I picked it up yesterday and it's a great collection of honest and sometimes shockingly funny accounts of what would otherwise be family secrets,  accompanied by family photos.    Having spent the afternoon with Dean - a witty and brilliant fellow, I can't wait to read about his younger years.

Maryclaire and Dean are two wonderful people who are great examples of what a combination of strong family bonds, determination and love can build.  Alabu is just one example of what can happen when people come together with a common goal, a vision and lots of hard work.  Adding a few goats doesn't hurt either.

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