Montchevre in Belmont Goes Non-GMO

Because baby goats are cute.

You’d think with my hometown of Belmont, Wisconsin being only an hour away, I’d get back home more often. However, the closest I usually get is Mineral Point, where we meet my parents most Sunday nights at the Midway Tavern for homemade pizza and five games of Euchre (we have a running score of who wins each game – women vs. men – written in pencil on the bottom of the Green Bay Packers poster on the wall).

But last week, with an invitation from fourth generation French cheesemaker Jean Rossard to visit the ever-expanding Montchevre goat cheese factory in Belmont, I made the trip to my hometown. With a population of 986 people, this thriving metropolis has gained exactly 160 people since I left home in 1994, and I’m pretty sure they all work at Montchevre.

That’s because Montchevre employs 250 people. In a small town, that’s a big deal. And when you combine that number with another 200+ working at the Lactalis President Brie factory just down the street, French-style cheese has eclipsed Belmont’s one-time claim to fame of being the state’s first capital. Heck, even the village’s homes are powered by methane gas from Montchevre’s anaerobic digester – the first digester installed at a goat cheese factory in America.

Touring a cheese factory these days is complicated. With increased regulations and sanitary requirements from the Food Safety Modernization Act, most won’t let you in at all. But Jean got me suited up in a full-body jumpsuit, booties to cover my shoes, a full head hairnet with openings for my eyes and mouth, and a long white jacket. I looked like I was ready to go cook a meal on the moon. And no, I’m not posting a picture. Let’s just say the outfit was not slimming.

As one of the largest goat cheese factories in America, Montchevre makes an astounding number of different types of goat cheese, all in the same facility, and it does it very well. Jean and Arnaud Solandt founded Montchevre in 1989 in Preston, Wisconsin. In 1995, they moved operations to Belmont and took over the old Besnier America factory on the southeast side of town. When the pair started, the Belmont factory was a rather outdated 30,000 sq. ft, historic cheese factory. Today it is a 110,000 sq. ft. modernized wonder and takes up nearly an entire city block.

The “Welcome Cheese Geek” cheese platter full of Montchevre cheeses,
including from left: 10 flavors of chevre, mini brie and goat cheddar.

In the beginning, Montchevre produced three different cheeses; Le Cabrie, Chèvre in Blue and Chevriotte—all of which are still in production today. Since then, Rossard and Solandt have added more than 50 different cheeses to their family, including a full line of non-GMO fresh chevre logs in a variety of flavors ranging from cranberrry/cinnamon to tomato basil to garlic and herb.

Montchevre is the first goat cheese manufacturer in the United States to produce non-GMO chevre, and Jean acknowledges it took his team nearly a year to make it happen. All feed for animals certified non-GMO must be sourced from non-GMO seeds, which sounds A LOT easier than it really is. Montchevre worked with heritage seed companies and feed mills to source non-GMO seeds, provide seeds for farmers to grow, and then worked with feed mills to separately process harvested non-GMO crops into protein pellets (soy-based with minerals) that goats are fed at milking time. (Eighty percent of a goat’s diet is alfalfa hay, which must also be grown from non-GMO seeds).

A few varieties of the new non-GMO Montchevre goat
cheese 4-ounce logs.

All of Montchevre’s non-GMO milk is currently produced by a group of farmers in central Iowa. The milk is trucked and processed separately at the Belmont cheese factory. The Iowan farmers are part of a vast network of 360 farms Montchevre supports in the Midwest. That means 360 farms depend on Montchevre for their livelihood, and that’s a responsibility Jean Rossard does not take lightly. He visits farms regularly, and the company employs three full-time field employees to work directly with goat dairy farmers to troubleshoot problems and solve challenges.

The current pay price for goat’s milk in Wisconsin is about $38/cwt (100 pounds of milk). That price is holding steady because of a constant growth in demand for cheese. In comparison, the current pay price for Class III cow’s milk (milk processed into cheese) is $16.34/cwt. It takes about 10 goats to equal the milk output of one cow, hence the higher pay price for goat’s milk.

Goat dairy farmers Elaine and Dennis Schaaf graciously pose with a cheese
geek who peppered them with questions for a good hour.

Dennis and Elaine Schaaf are dairy goat farmers who ship their milk to Montchevre. The pair farm near Mineral Point and got into the dairy goat business nine years ago. Before taking on goats, the couple milked cows for 30 years. “Physically, there’s no comparison in milking a cow versus a goat,” Dennis says. “A cow steps on your foot, you’re going to hurt in the morning or take a trip to an emergency room. A goat steps on your foot and you just shoo it off.”

The Schaafs have successfully converted their former cow barn into a goat milking parlor, and just this summer, built a new open-air free stall goat barn, where goats are free to roam large, open pens filled with fresh straw bedding. Free choice alfalfa hay and fresh water are always available. Goats also have access to pasture, but Dennis says they hardly ever go outside.

“Goats don’t like sun and they don’t like water. That means if it’s raining, they stay inside. If the sun’s out, they stay inside. About the only time you’ll see them in the pasture is at night when it’s not raining.”

The Schaafs milk 240 goats twice a day, and are breeding 350 goats this fall in anticipation of expanding next year. Goats milk seasonally, so the Schaafs generally have a break from milking in December and January, but are trying to shorten that window by breeding females year-round. This helps Montchevre maintain a more consistent flow of milk to make into cheese year-round. The Schaafs’ herd is made up of a cross of Saanen, Toggenberg and Alpine breeds of goats.

In a young industry, Dennis and Elaine have milked goats long enough to serve as mentors to up-and-coming dairy goat farmers. They say three farmers in their area have switched from milking cows to milking goats just this year, with one farm turning operations over to their child to become the first second generation goat dairy farm in Wisconsin.

Milk is picked up about every three days from the goat dairy farms and hauled to Montchevre, where three shifts of employees make cheese 363 days a year around the clock. The demand for goat cheese is ever increasing in a nation where eating goat cheese is a relatively new phenomenon. “We’re already planning another expansion,” Jean says. “Our goal is to process 100 million pounds of milk this year, and we’re well on our way to meeting that goal.”

My favorite picture from my day spent with the talented Montchevre crew, pictured from left: Cheesemaker and co-founder Jean Rossard, Milk Supply Manager Cody Taft, Packaging Manager Jeff Amenda and Quality Control Manager Craig Howell. Jean bought us lunch at downtown Belmont’s McCarville’s My Turn Pub, which coincidentally, used to be called the Heins Pool Hall (my maiden name is Heins) and where I a) grew up playing cards with my dad after chores were done and b) hosted my wedding reception with my husband, Uriah. Sometimes life comes full circle.

Build a Dairy, Name a Goat: Bifrost Farms Looks to Rise in Wisconsin

Everyone knows that in Wisconsin, it’s not easy starting up a small-scale, farmstead cheese operation. Every cheesemaker selling cheese commercially must be licensed, his or her facility must be licensed, and an array of permits and bureacratic hoops written for the big boys must be navigated. And if you’re a small goat or sheep dairy operation, good luck finding a banker to loan you money.

That’s why Meg and Joel Wittenmyer, land stewards for a diverse 20 acres in northwestern Wisconsin that they call Bifrost Farms, recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Their goal? To raise $4,000 before the ground freezes to install critical infrastructure needs at their farmstead goat dairy so they can work on the interior of a new micro-creamery this winter.

“It’s scary enough starting a new career at 57,” says Meg, a Wisconsin Licensed Cheesemaker, goat milker, hay thrower, animal wrangler and bottle washer (literally). “But one that requires not only physical stamina, but puts you in the position of being responsible for the lives of so many wonderful animals…well, it’s kind of daunting. But, I’ve faced challenges all my life and never met one I couldn’t overcome.”

The Wyttenmyers’ first step is renovating a building on their farm for a new micro-creamery, with a goal to open in May 2016.  This fall, they are trying to get critical infrastructure work done before the snow flies, so early next year, when they apply (and hopefully receive) a USDA micro-loan, they are ready for the rest of the work.
Meg has been experimenting with making goat’s milk cheeses for years, and after spending the past two years earning her Wisconsin Cheese Makers License, she’s already found her first waiting commerical customer. After tasting samples of Meg’s delicious Chevre and Farmhouse Feta, Menomonie Market Cooperative is eager to carry Bifrost Farms cheese as well as Cajeta (a thickened syrup usually made of sweetened caramelized milk, originally from Mexico) and, one day, Gelato. “We can’t get this done fast enough,” Meg says.
In addition to making goat’s milk cheeses, Meg is also dedicated to opening her facility to aspiring cheesemakers looking to gain their 240 needed apprenticeship hours with a licensed cheesemaker. Small-scale operations that meet the state’s requirements for internships are few and far between, especially on the western side of the state. 
Those hoping to have their own micro-creamery one day must do as Meg did. Part of her hours were attained at the UW-River Falls Dairy Plant over three semesters, (where incidentally, not only did she not get paid, but had to pay student tuition to be able to work in the plant for liability reasons). The balance of her internship time included a short stint of 30 hours with a small goat dairy two hours away, while the rest occurred at a medium-sized creamery, which was still 100 times larger than her plans for Bifrost Farms, and an hour’s drive from her home.

Once Bifrost Farms is operational, Meg plans to hang out her shingle for interns who not only want to make cheese, but need to understand what it’s like to operate at a micro-level, where often times one or two people are doing all the work. This is not a new problem for small cheesemakers, but hopefully, with one more micro-creamery in the mix, it won’t be so hard, she says.

If you’re interested in helping Meg & Joel with their dream of building an on-farm goat’s milk creamery, I’d urge you to visit their site, and learn more about their operation. Even a gift of $5 or $10 adds up, plus they’ll recognize you on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Larger donations come with more rewards, such as farm tours and baskets of cheese, once the dairy is licensed. My favorite reward? Donate $55 and you’ll get to name a goat next Spring at Bifrost Farms. Because who doesn’t want to name a goat? C’mon people!

LaClare Farms Martone

LaClare Farms Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann
and Martone, her newest creation.

Never one to rest on her laurels – or let’s face it, rest at all – U.S. Champion Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms returned from her Hawaiian honeymoon last Friday afternoon to host hundreds of visitors at her family’s farmstead creamery grand opening, and that night, attend the Wisconsin Cheese Originals Meet the Cheesemaker Gala, where she debuted a brand new cheese she’s been working on in secret for more than two years.

It makes me tired to even write that sentence, much less execute everything it entails.

But then again I’m not a young, energetic cheesemaker with a lifetime of award-winning cheeses ahead of me. Katie’s latest creation, enthusiastically enveloped by the artisan cheese community at the fifth annual Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival this weekend, is called Martone. Cheese lovers in Wisconsin have been anxiously awaiting a cheese like this: a surface-ripened beauty made from a 50/50 blend of cow and goat’s milk, resulting in a mild, buttery flavor and citrus finish. Sitting at about 1-1/2 inches tall and about 3-1/2 inches wide, Martone is my new favorite table cheese.

Katie says she named the cheese for her great-grandfather, Martin Kozlowski, a dairy farmer and the first generation Kozlowski to settle in Wisconsin. But the cheese is really inspired by Martin’s granddaughter, who just happens to be Katie’s mom, Clara. Mama Hedrich, as I like to call her, grew up on the family farm and was the first in her family to attend college. She went on to become one of of the first two women to graduate from UW River-Falls with a degree in agriculture education. She’s spent the past 37 years sharing her passion with thousands of students. In fact, she is the longest tenured ag instructor in the state and is revered by her current students at West DePere High School. It’s not hard to see where Katie gets her drive from.

Hedrich patriarch Larry Hedrich shows off
his new dairy goat freestall barn, which opens
to the outside with paddocks of fresh grass.
These are some seriously happy goats.

Martone is made with pasteurized milk, vegetarian rennet and is ripened 10 days. That means it will likely be between two and three weeks old when you buy it at a retail store and eat it, but you’d better hurry, because it’s only got a 30-day shelf life. After that, this bloomy rind blossom is likely to harden and lose it complex flavorings.

The cow’s milk used for the cheese is sourced from Red Barn Family Farms, a group of American Humane Certified cow dairies near Black Creek, Wisconsin. The goat’s milk comes from the Quality Dairy Goat Producers Cooperative Of Wisconsin, founded and managed by Katie’s father, Larry. Today, seven – and soon to be eight – farms, including LaClare Farms, milk between 120 and 600 goats. That milk is sold to cheesemakers, including Carr Valley Cheese, Sartori, and LaClare Farms, where it’s made into award-winning cheeses such as Sartori Extra Aged Goat, LaClare Chandoka and Carr Valley Billy Goat Blue. It’s also bottled into LaClare Farms Bottled Goat milk and crafted into ice cream for LaLoos Goat Milk Ice Cream.

While each of the seven farms belonging to the goat cooperative is a top-notch operation, the 450 dairy goats at LaClare Farms are living the high life in a brand new facility built specifically for them at the still-smells-like-new LaClare Farms farmstead creamery.

Turning off Highway 151 east of Lake Winnebago and driving into the parking lot of the new picturesque goat dairy, creamery and what should be called a visitor center just outside the bustling unincorporated berg of Pipe, Wisconsin, feels like entering the Disneyland of dairy goats. Because 1) yes, it’s that clean, and 2) yes, it’s that fun.

Run by the Hedrich clan – mom and dad Larry & Clara, along with their grown children: Cheesemaker Katie, Business Manager Greg, Store Manager Jessica and part-time Herd Manager Anna — the family has pulled together to create something Wisconsin’s never seen before: an agritourism destination where visitors can see animals in a barn, watch them be milked in a double 24 goat parlor through a huge viewing window, watch cheese being aged through windows in the visitor center, and then purchase an array of cheeses made both at LaClare Farms and from around Wisconsin, as well as ice cream from Kelley Country Creamery near Fond du Lac.

Rock Star Chef Jim McIntosh in the new
LaClare Farms farmstead kitchen outside
Pipe, Wisconsin.

And when they’re done with all that, they can order lunch or dinner made by renowned chef Jim McIntosh (most recently the executive chef at Grand Cafe in Minneapolis). This is a farmstead creamery with a top-ranked chef also cooking with its products. Open to the public seven days a week, the LaClare Farms Cafe has already drawn a grand reputation for its Friday night Fish Fry and hand-cut French fries, which according to this French fry connoisseur, are the best she’s ever eaten. Jim told me he’s already torn his hand-operated potato fry cutter off the wall twice in his anxiousness to get fries into the fryer. “The way I’ve got it bolted to the wall now, the next time it comes off, the wall’s coming with it,” he said in completely seriousness.

While the cafe, retail store and dairy goat milking parlor are up and running at 100 percent, the cheese factory is almost there. Katie estimates she’s about two weeks away from final inspections and finally making cheese in her own facility, after spending more than four years putting thousands of miles on her car, driving to three different area cheese factories to both make and age her cheeses. She’s been sleep-deficit for years, constantly on the road between home and a cheese factory that’s not her own. Married for exactly 18 days, Mrs. Katie Fuhrmann is looking forward to finally establishing a home base. It will be a well-deserved reward for one of the hardest-working cheesemakers in the state.

“It is going to be so awesome to make cheese in my own place,” Katie said during a tour on Monday. “I get goose bumps every time I walk past the cheese vats. We are so close.”

Katie will have two cheese vats at her disposal: a 5,000-pound and 11,000-pound vat, where she will make her champion Evalon cheese, as well as a full range of goat’s milk cheeses including Fondy Jack, Chandoka, Goat Cheddar, Chevre and the new Martone. What’s more, the new LaClare Facility boasts six – yes six – different aging rooms, which can be each set to their own temperature and humidity levels. Katie will have an Evalon room, a washed-rind room for cheeses currently under development, a cheddar room, and others still to be classified. She’ll also be making custom cheese for at least two companies. The goal is for LaClare Farms to become an incubator and affinage facility for new cheeses and cheesemakers who can not yet afford to make and/or age cheese at their own place.

Cleaning the cheese vats at LaClare Farms creamery.

“This has truly been a labor of love for our family,” Larry said on a tour yesterday, clearly in his element talking about the new facility. “We are proud to open one of the most modern dairy processing facilities in the United States producing the highest quality dairy products possible. We are proud to have our family here with us, working side-by-side. That was the dream, and we’re here.”

This One’s for the Girls

This past week has been full of good news from women I love.

First, some of you may recall that three summers ago, I took my daughter on “the last mother/daughter road trip before my daughter starts to hate me because she’s a teenager and I’m her mother.” I’m so glad we took that trip, because as any parent of a teenage girl who looks 21 will know, the past three years have been full of slamming doors, broken curfews, smashed hollyhocks (which had the misfortune to grow directly under the bedroom window of which she routinely snuck out), and of course, boys. And more boys. Did I mention boys?

In good news, my daughter is now almost 17, has settled down a bit, and seems to be past most of the rocky spots, except when it comes to driving fast and furious (she’s one ticket away from having mom as chauffeur) and I’m hoping (fingers crossed) we’re on the road to a really good relationship. In fact, when I mentioned this might be the last mother/daughter adventure we take because she’ll soon be going to college, she informed me she would never be too busy to take a road trip with her mama. I’m taking that as a very good sign (again, fingers crossed).

Landmark Creamery Nuage Noir.
Photo by Anna Thomas Bates

The second good bit of girly news comes from Anna Landmark, who this past week quit her day job and launched Landmark Creamery (woot woot)! Anna’s been working to attain a cheesemaker license since earning the 2012 Wisconsin Cheese Originals Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship.

She”s now making her sheep’s milk cheeses at Cedar Grove Cheese full-time and has reached the stage where she’s ready to start getting her cheese into the retail arena. She’s even taking orders from individuals through her website, At the moment, she’s only selling in the Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago areas, but will hopefully be able to ship nationwide by next March.

Congratulations, Anna! You go, girl.

Sarah Pinet with her teenage doelings.

The third bit of girly good news comes from Sarah Pinet in western Nebraska. When Sarah found out her favorite mother/daughter duo were staying in a cabin a mere three hours north of her farm, feeding the “wild” burros in Custer State Park, she messaged me and invited us for a visit.

So we trekked down to the picturesque Victory Hill Farm and hung with Sarah, her husband, Lee, their three children, 39 milking goats, 12 doelings, two sows, one boar, three piglets, two calves, two horses, one pony, two dogs, four cats, numerous chickens and two kittens that I had to persuade my daughter not hide in the backseat and take home with us.

Meadowlark Reserve

Sarah is making a whole line of goat’s milk cheeses, including fresh and flavored chevres, feta, a 6-month cheddar she calls Meadowlark, Beer Cheddar (washed in Fat Tire), a gouda named Goldenrod, and my favorite, a 2-year gouda named Meadowlark Reserve.

We got the full tour of the milking parlor she designed based on Anne Topham’s set-up, the creamery, based on Diana Murphy’s make-room (see a pattern of Wisconsin-inspired cheesemaking here?) and the barnyard, complete with three giant pigs which promptly climbed out of the mud pit, shook every bone in their body, and completely splattered Avery and me with dark oozy gooey chunks. With a look of horror on her face, Sarah immediately started apologizing and shepherding us into the house to clean up, to which my daughter proclaimed: “That was awesome!” Ahh, that’s my girl.

The offending pig.

So all in all, I’d say it was a pretty good week for us girls. A road trip with my daughter, a week away from my desk, and a cooler full of cheese to put in the fridge when we got home. Win-win!

Thank You Anne Topham, Grande Dame of Goat Cheese

Those of you who braved the last of Wisconsin’s never-ending winter last week at the Dane County Farmer’s Market may have noticed a familiar face missing. That’s because Wisconsin’s grande dame of goat cheese, Anne Topham, retired this spring after nearly 30 years of making French-style fresh chèvre and handcrafted aged goat cheeses for the market.

While Anne would never dream of taking credit for starting the Midwest’s love affair with chevre, all credit surely does go to her and partner Judy Borree for introducing Wisconsinites to fine French-style goat cheese. The pair started milking goats at their Fantome Farm near Ridgeway in 1982, after Topham took a break from studying for her doctorate in education policy studies at UW-Madison.

At the time, no one else in the region was making goat cheese. So, like any good academic, she went to the library. She read cheesemaking books in French, took the University of Wisconsin cheese technology course, and visited pioneering California cheesemaker Laura Chenel. Then she and Judy started experimenting. A pet pig ate their first mistakes. Later, better cheeses went to the Dane County Farmer’s Market, where the pair had to literally give it away in order to get customers to try it, because no one in Wisconsin had ever heard of goat cheese, much less eaten it.

“We cajoled people into trying our cheese at the market. We thought if they tried it, they would buy it, and we were right,” Topham said. She soon began to learn as much from her customers as she had from her books and expert advice.

“Sometimes, a customer might say last week’s batch was too salty so I would measure more carefully the next week. Others would tell us we were making a cheese that you could only find in the mountain farms in Puerto Rico, or that it was similar to the fresh cheese made by the nomadic people in Afghanistan. And here I thought I was only making a gourmet French-style goat cheese!” Topham laughed.

Although many would agree Topham has long since perfected the art of making cheese, she never stopped learning new techniques. She traveled to France in 2003 to study affinage – the art of ripening cheese, went to Italy in 2007 to study the making of Parmigiano Reggiano, and volunteered time in 2010 teaching cheesemakers in Ecuador how to add value to their dairy farms.

Along the way, she learned just as much as she taught, and after every trip, “It made me come back and want to tear up everything I had and start over,” she says. Her 2003 trip to France to study affinage was one of the first study trips by a Wisconsin cheesemaker on the subject.

“Seeing the mechanical caves in France definitely changed my advice to starting farmstead cheese owners,” she said. “Building and planning for such spaces and learning ways to perfect ripened cheese really helped take farmstead and artisanal cheesemaking to the next level here in Wisconsin.”

Thirty years after having to give away fresh chevre to customers in order for them to try it, it’s a bit ironic that Cook’s Illustrated dedicated an entire section to “The Best Fresh Goat Cheese” in its May/June 2013 issue. Editors compared nine different chevres from the United States and France, recommending Laura Chenel’s Fresh Chevre Log as its overall winner. While Anne’s cheese wasn’t involved in the study (she makes only enough cheese to sell at the market each week), it’s likely Fantome Farm chevre would have placed high on the list.

At age 73, Anne says she doesn’t plan to stop milking a few goats or making a little cheese. She’s just not going to make it for sale anymore. The next chapter in her life might include some consulting for beginning cheesemakers, something she’s done quite often along the way, most of the time for free. With 30 years of cheesemaking knowledge, she’s still got a lot to offer. Look for her walking – not working – the farmer’s market on Saturdays, still talking and sharing stories with former customers.

LaClare Farms to Build New Farmstead Creamery

An artist’s rendering of the new LaClare Farms storefront.

Katie Hedrich, the reigning U.S. Champion Cheesemaker (and 2010 Wisconsin Cheese Originals Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship winner), announced her family dairy, LaClare Farms, will break ground this week on a new 35,000 sq. ft. farmstead dairy plant in eastern Wisconsin.

The new dairy will be on State Hwy 151, north of the village of Pipe on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago. The facility includes plans for a state-of-the-art dairy plant, retail store and café, as well as milking parlor with housing for 600 milking goats. The facility will be capable of processing cow, goat and sheep milk. In addition to crafting LaClare Farms products, the facility will serve as a specialty custom dairy processing and aging facility.

“This week is the start of the biggest week of my life,” said Katie. Her parents, Larry and Clara Hedrich – dairy goat farmers and industry leaders for more than 30 years – agree.

“Building this farmstead dairy plant allows us to bring the next generation of Hedrich family members back to the farm,” Katie’s father, Larry said. “Our goal is to be one of the top sustainable agricultural enterprises in the nation, and with the talent our team brings to this operation, we will be.”

The new farmstead dairy plant allows the Hedrich family to expand their current offering of goat’s milk and mixed milk cheeses, including Evalon, Fresh Chevre, Cheddar, Fondy Jack and American Originals crafted by Katie Hedrich, who without her own facility, has been making five-hour round trips to Willow Creek cheese factory several times a week to make Evalon and LaClare cheeses. The Hedrichs’ new farmstead facility will also be capable of aging cheese in special curing rooms, as well as producing cultured products and bottled milk.

Katie’s brother, Greg Hedrich, is the business manager of the new integrated agricultural enterprise. Three additional sisters: Heather, Jessica and Anna, will work part-time for LaClare Farms in human resources, marketing and herd management roles while continuing their off-enterprise jobs. All five siblings hold university degrees in subjects ranging from marketing to human resources to dairy science to education.

“The key is each one of the children is not forced into one role,” Larry says. “They each chose to go to college, worked in the public/private sector for a number of years and now have chosen to bring their skills back to the family enterprise. We are beyond thrilled to have the next generation back on the farm.”  The enterprise also brings the talents of Larry’s cousin, John Jenkins, on board.

An official groundbreaking ceremony is set for Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. at the new facility. The public is invited. The location is: W2994 County Road HH, on the corner of State Hwy 151 and County Road HH in Pipe.

The groundbreaking is just the latest example of Wisconsin’s thriving artisan and farmstead cheesemaking industry. The amount of specialty cheese produced in the state has doubled in the past 10 years, and today accounts for 22 percent of the state’s total cheese production. Ninety of the state’s 126 cheese plants craft at least one type of specialty cheese, up from 77 plants five years ago.

The new LaClare farmstead dairy plant is expected to be up and running by early summer, 2013. In addition to crafting LaClare Farm products, the Hedrichs plan to rent out space to dairy processors to help launch new products and to work with beginning dairy entrepreneurs to develop their new products. The facility will also offer viewing windows into the milking parlor, dairy plant and cheese aging room which will be available to the public.

Congratulations to the Hedrich family – I look forward to following your progress and touring your new facility in 2013!

Wisconsin Dairy Goat Industry Drooping as Drought Lingers

The severe drought affecting southern Wisconsin may have a severe impact on the number of dairy goat farms left in the state by year’s end.

With a sharp increase in feed costs (due to lack of forages), and a sharp decrease in milk production (due to heat stress), dairy goat farmers are predicting a mass exodus unless the pay prices that cheese plants pay for goat’s milk are significantly increased.
“I am doing what I can, and writing to the people who buy the milk to try and deliver the message that we can’t keep going when the price we get is less than what we can make it for,” one goat producer messaged. “We all need to keep spreading the word so we can save our farms.”
A cheese processor, Montchevre in Belmont, Wis., did just that last week, temporarily bumping up the price paid for 100 pounds of goat’s milk to $33.50, up $1.50. In a statement made July 31, company president Arnaud Solandt said: “We trust this pricing adjustment will provide some sensitive relief. We also hope it will either influence other goat cheese manufacturers to do the same, or incite goat milk producers to come to Montchevre.”
While goat farmers who ship to Montchevre said they appreciated the temporary bump in pay price, others said a permanent increase in milk prices must happen if Wisconsin doesn’t want to lose the majority of its 196 licensed dairy goat farms. 
Case in point: an analysis posted on a dairy goat email list by a goat milk producer on August 1 stated dairy goat farmers need another $10 per hundredweight to bring them back to last year’s profit levels. 
His analysis showed the following:
  • The base price of goat milk shipped to cheese plants for 2011 was $32.19 per hundred pounds. In 2012, it has been, on average, $33.58, a 4.3 percent increase over last year.*
  • In July 2011, the milk price was $30.50 per hundred pounds. Hay, even with the Texas drought, was $150 a ton for good quality. Grain was around $330 to $340. The break even point on feed costs was 3.5 pounds of milk per goat per day. So a herd of 100 goats would have to ship 1,400 pounds of milk in four days just to cover the feed cost.
  • In July 2012, the milk price was $32. Hay is now going for $250 a ton and grain is now $400 a ton. The break even point is now 4.6 pounds of milk per goat per day. So now, a herd of 100 goats has to ship 1,840 pounds of milk in four days just to cover feed costs.**
Therefore, the dairy goat farmer said, the $1.50 temporary price bump from Montchevre is “like a 1/4 inch of rain on this drought. It helps, but it is not going to fix the problem goat producers have in staying in business.”
Another goat producer, who started milking three years ago, was forced to sell his herd on June 30 and rent out his facility to a large goat farm, just to keep making the farm loan payments. He hopes to save enough money in the next four years – if feed prices go down and the drought subsides – to build back the herd. Even with his recent loss, he thanked Montchevre for increasing the pay price last week.
“Thank God Montchevre is trying to do right by their producers, but as of this moment, nobody else is,” he said. “I am afraid I will be working for the next four years for nothing, as will a lot of other people.”
Kenny Burma, who started goat farming in 1996, retired, and then came back with a new facility, is now running a 600-goat farm in Green County. On August 3, he told the Wisconsin State Journal that a square bale of hay that cost him $45 six months ago now costs $100. Feed pellets that cost $229 a ton a year ago now cost $436.
“Is the increase from Montchevre enough? Maybe not, especially for those farmers who are recent to the business and have loans to pay,” he told veteran reporter George Hesselberg. “If you are living milk check to milk check now, you will not survive this winter.”
With roughly a third of the 196 dairy goat farms in Wisconsin estimated to be in business less than three years, it is doubtful that they – much like many Americans in this economy – are doing much more than living from pay check to pay check, after paying the bills and buying food for themselves and their animals.
Burma summed it up this way: “You have to wonder if it’s worth it. Why am I getting up at 4 a.m. every day and losing money? I could do that in Las Vegas and have a better time.”
* The average price was figured by adding up total yearly milk prices and dividing by number of pay periods.
** The total quantity of milk a goat gives each day is considerably less than that produced by a cow. A good dairy goat provides between 6 to 12 pounds of milk a day for about a 305-day lactation. In comparison, a good dairy cow provides almost five times that amount. — courtesy of UW Cooperative Extension.

A Century of Cheesemaking at Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery

A historic cheese factory set in the scenic hills of Crawford County will celebrate its 100-year anniversary this year by getting a facelift and expanded artisan cheese line.

Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery — today home to an award-winning line of goat’s milk cheeses and goat whey cream butter — was originally built in 1912 by a group of local dairy cow farmers who wanted to make more money from their excess cream. They succeeded, using a new innovation – the centrifugal cream separator — hauling milk to the factory in horse-drawn wagons, churning the cream into butter, and then returning the skim milk back to the farms, using it for livestock feed.

Over the years, the creamery — like many in Wisconsin — transitioned into a cow’s milk cheese plant, making cheddar. a state staple. In 1983, however, it was converted into a goat’s milk cheese plant, as by then, the Southwestern Wisconsin Dairy Goat Products Cooperative had enough demand for its goat’s cheeses that it needed its own facility. Today, as the last working cheese plant in Crawford County, the Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery, with 16 farmer patrons, manufactures a full line of goat’s milk raw milk cheddars, pasteurized cheddars, country jack, mozzarella, Greek style feta and whey cream butter.

It is also specializes in an artisan line, with its first cheese, Sterling Reserve, winning national awards, including a third place at the 2011 American Cheese Society Competition. The company plans to expand its artisan line with a new cheese to be launched this fall at the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival.

Marketing Director Patricia Lund, who has been with the cooperative for the past decade, says the board and its patrons are excited about the milestone anniversary. The board is even planning a new addition to the plant that will increase its efficiency in production, ensuring the century-old plant a solid life well into the future.

All of Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery’s cheeses, crafted by cheesemaker Bjorn Unseth, are 100 percent natural and made with goat’s milk from producers dedicated to sustainable farming practices, Lund says. No coloring, additives or shortcuts are used, and all products are made with a non-GMO rennet.

Since its start, Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery has enjoyed a steady growth in production and sales, with at least a 10 percent increase in sales each year during the past five years, Lund says. Today, its products are found in retail stores from coast to coast.

Congratulations to all the folks at Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery, and we look forward to your future!