Small Creameries Making a Big Difference
By Jeanne Carpenter | Photo By Becca Dilley 0
These days, award-winning artisan and specialty cheeses take most of the credit for putting Wisconsin on the map as America’s Dairyland. But it’s another growing category—farmstead creameries—that’s becoming increasingly responsible for drawing a new generation of dairy entrepreneurs into the land of milk and cheese.
While some dairy farmers choose to build new barns and add more milking cows to increase the size of their operations, a rising number of dairy farmers are instead building small creameries right on the farm, producing ice cream, butter, bottled milk, and yogurt directly from the milk of their cows, sheep or goats. Not only does crafting an on-farm dairy product provide another source of revenue, in many cases it provides a different avenue to bring the next generation—many of whom don’t want to milk animals 365 days a year—back into the family business.
Since 2000, nearly a dozen Wisconsin farms have built on-farm creameries to produce fresh dairy products. With more consumers wanting to know where their food comes from, farmers are in an ideal position to meet consumer demands for food transparency as farmstead dairy products are made on the same farm from where the animals are milked.
No one knows this better than Sassy Cow Creamery, located just 20 miles from downtown Madison. Three years ago, brothers and third-generation dairy farmers James and Robert Baerwolf took the plunge into “value-added dairy” and built an on-farm milk bottling and ice cream plant on a parcel of land located between their dairy farms. With two separate families to support—each brother is married and has three children—the Baerwolfs were looking to add value to their farm without adding more cows.
Today, Sassy Cow Creamery farmstead milk is available for sale in nearly 100 stores in more than 50 cities in Wisconsin and Illinois, including Metcalfe’s Market, Jenifer Street Market, Willy Street Co-op, HyVee Foods, and Woodman’s in Madison. Additionally, more than a dozen different ice cream flavors are available in about 30 stores across Wisconsin. All products carry the Sassy Cow label, with full-gallon milk jugs offering “cow trading cards”—a method for the farm to put a personal touch on its product by featuring a glamour shot of a Holstein cow with a description of its unique personality.
In addition, the farm’s retail store offers a dozen additional flavors of ice cream, white and chocolate milk, and several coolers of Wisconsin-made cheese, including cheese curds made on-site by a cheesemaker three days a week. A viewing window allows visitors to watch dairy production. The Baerwolfs also offer free creamery tours the first Friday of the month from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., and schedule several open houses where children can meet cows up close and personal.
“Everything we did, we did with the consumer in mind,” says James Baerwolf, who oversees much of the day-to-day operations at the creamery. “Many consumers don’t know or recognize the ingredients in the food they purchase. We look at our creamery not so much as a manufacturing facility, but as more of a delivery method. The cows do all the work naturally. We just pick up where they leave off and bring great-tasting dairy products to the consumer.”