It may have spent 10 years on the “back burner,” but the launch of a new cheese this fall by a Wisconsin dairy family has definitely made the wait worthwhile.
Creamy and mild, LaBelle is the fourth child of Oconomowoc dairy farmers John & Kim Koepke. (Their first three children are actually children ages 2, 7, and 10, but anyone launching a new cheese will tell you it’s about as much work as having another kid).
LaBelle’s official description is a blend between a Gouda and Butterkase, but my official description is “yumtastic.” Creamy, flavorful with just the right body and a perfectly clean finish, LaBelle is the kind of cheese that you can sit down and eat an entire package before realizing it. (Don’t ask me how I know this).
“We wanted to make a cheese that was comfortable in the kitchen but okay to eat while watching the Packer game,” Oconomowoc dairy farmers John & Kim Koepke told me last week.
Well, folks, I think you can consider that mission accomplished. Made at Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, Wis., LaBelle is enjoying a successful run in local markets and continually sells out special dinners at The Pub in downtown Oconomowoc. The Koepkes are now experimenting with a Foenegreek flavored LaBelle, with other flavors on the horizon.
When they’re not making cheese, the Koepkes are busy winning awards for their stellar dairy farm, located in Waukesha County. In October, they were chosen as the second-ever recipient of Wisconsin’s Leopold Conservation Award, bringing with it a $10,000 cash prize and Leopold crystal. Before that, they scooped up the “Dairy Farm of the Year” at the 2011 World Dairy Expo.
The farm is a partnership between brothers Alan, David, Jim and Jim’s son John. Kim is in charge of marketing and sales of the farm’s cheese venture, and she certainly has an eye for logo and brand development, evident by the cheese’s stunning packaging and logo, developed in partnership with consultants at the Dairy Business Innovation Center, a non-profit organization that helps folks just like the Koepkes launch their own value-added dairy products.
“The foundation of our business has always been on the principle of great animal care. Everything goes back to the cows,” Kim said. “We wanted to show how the love of animals and land can result in a product worthy of having their picture on the label.”
And while LaBelle is currently made at Cedar Grove, I get the feeling this farm couple will someday build a factory of their own, after the kids are grown and Kim can focus on perhaps getting her own cheesemaker’s license.
“It’s something that’s never far from my mind,” Kim says of making cheese. “But right now we’re running a decent-sized farm 24/7 with three little kids. We try and remember what a vendor told us from the very first Fancy Food Show we attended: ‘Don’t go faster than it’s fun.’ So that’s what we’re doing. And we’re having fun.”