If you’ve purchased and enjoyed a package of hand-rolled butter lately, there’s a very good chance – as in 100 percent – that it was a) actually rolled and packaged in paper by hand, and b) those hands belong to a butter-rolling woman named Nina.
Nina is just one of 35 employees who works at Alcam Creamery in Richland Center, Wis., a family owned and managed butter plant that dates back to 1946. It’s the kind of place where the original owner, Cam, age 88, comes into work most mornings at 4:30 a.m. and types up the bank deposits on a typewriter, and where the vice president didn’t have a desk for the first three years he worked there.
“Not having a desk makes you keep moving – wandering around, talking with employees, staying on the move and trying to keep up,” says Alcam Creamery VP Lenny Schaub, a good-natured and well-respected veteran of the dairy industry who spent 35 years in the cheese business before coming to a tiny butter plant in southwest Wisconsin that most people (well at least people like me) didn’t know existed until last week.
Lenny, along with General Manager Jason Schultz, the son-in-law of current owner Gary Peckham (interesting tidbit: before he married into the butter family, Jason owned and operated a chain of Panchero’s Mexican Grills) together keep things rolling along at Alcam Creamery. The pair oversee a butter plant that makes 200,000 pounds of butter a day and picks up cream from 85 cheese plants around the country.
When it started in 1946, the plant served local cheese plants and dairies, providing an outlet for their whey cream. Once just a local buttermaker, today it produces butter for a growing national market under more than 30 different private label names. Today, it serves plants throughout the nation and provides butter for domestic and international consumption.
General Manager Jason Schultz says the company’s continuous growth is a testament to the quality of the company’s butter and the loyalty of its customers. “Over the years, our mix of products has grown from bulk boxes of salted butter to a wide assortment of sizes and shapes for retail, food service and ingredient customers. Butter is what we do and we do it well,” Jason says. “We like to say, it’s the butter with taste.”
The richer, fuller taste of the whey cream butter made by Alcam is a direct result of the cheesemaking process. Some say the flavor of Alcam Butter reminds them of what hand churned butter used to taste like, vs. the blander, finer taste of a sweet cream, USDA Grade AA butter. Alcam Creamery’s whey cream butter is a Wisconsin Grade A butter, meaning instead of a “fine and highly pleasing taste,” it has a “pleasing and desirable butter flavor.” (Here’s a link to the fascinating Wisconsin butter grading statutes, if you’re interested).
Whey cream is more salty, tangy, and “cheesy” than “sweet” cream skimmed from milk. Whey cream is made from the fat that remains in liquid whey after the cheesemaking process is completed. The butterfat is separated from the whey, pasteurized, then churned. Salt is added to enhance flavor and preserve quality. The result is a butter that I can only describe as pretty freakin’ awesome.