What's been a dream of Calumet County's Hedrich family since 1978 could come true by the end of this year if the financial plans for a homestead plant specializing in the making of goat cheeses pan out. The Hedriches are well-known for their showing of dairy goats and, since late 2008, for their introduction of their trademarked Evalon line of aged goat semisoft cheeses at local outlets, in metropolitan markets in the upper Midwest and into national markets.
This venture, which is being built on the combined talents and efforts of Larry and Clara Hedrich's five children, and their spouses, was sparked in part by the decision of their daughter, Katie, to obtain a Wisconsin cheesemaker license. Doing that was helped immensely after Katie Hedrich earned the first $2,500 licensed cheesemaker scholarship awarded by Wisconsin Cheese Originals, an artisan cheesemaker organization, nearly a year ago. Her educational background also includes a bachelor's degree in marketing from Northern Michigan University and a degree in accounting from the local Fox Valley Technical College.
Hedrich has completed the cheesemaker licensing course, which included units in dairy sanitation, milk pasteurization, cheese making, dairy food safety and the federal Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points program. She also plans to pursue a Wisconsin license in butter making, which she indicates isn't quite as intensive as the cheesemaker licensing protocol.
As part of her licensing requirement, Hedrich served a six-week apprenticeship with the head cheesemaker at Saxon Creamery in Cleveland in neighboring Manitowoc County. Until the Hedriches open their own facility, their Gouda-style Evalon goat cheeses will continue to be made at Saxon Creamery - a task that Katie has handled since September 2009. The trademark Evalon name is in memory of Larry Hedrich's grandmother.
More details about using the aged goat cheeses are available on Facebook at LaClare Farms, on the family's www.laclarefarm.com website, from search engines for Evalon, and on the www.saxoncreamery.com website. According to the websites, the cheeses are aged for a minimum of 70 days, an aging period of 150 days is considered ideal for peak flavor, and the shelf life is 270 days.
A major drawback the Hedriches, whose family business motto is "Great milk makes great cheese," have faced in their ambition to make goat cheeses was the unavailability - at existing cheese plants - of vats suitable for making relatively small batches of cheese. Katie Hedrich pointed out that most of today's vats call for at least 40,000 pounds of milk.
At their own plant, the Hedriches would have vats for 5,000 pounds of milk and perhaps other sizes for relatively small milk volumes. That plant is to be in Pipe in northeastern Fond du Lac County, which is about 15 miles from the family's LaClare Farms west of Chilton, but close to where Larry Hedrich grew up.
In addition to serving their own production needs more conveniently by making smaller batches of cheese, the Hedriches envision opening the facility to other producers who want to test or make their own products. Katie Hedrich said such a facility would also accommodate the making of soft cheeses, fresh cheeses, cheese spreads, other artisan products made with a combination of dairy cow, goat and sheep milk, and possibly the packaging of ice cream.
At the moment, the lineup of the family's aged goat cheeses consists of three Gouda styles with a distinct European flair. The three varieties, which are suitable for grating, shredding and slicing, are the aged with cumin, an herb with an aromatic earthy spice flavor; aged with fenugreek, a nutty maple that's popular in Holland; and aged with a hint of Asiago, a cheese often used in baked Italian dishes or paired with fruity white wines.
There was no recipe for making those cheeses when production began in 2008, Hedrich points out. Settling on a style and flavors involved lots of experimentation, and was based in part on consumer reaction from samples and sales at farmers markets in the local area and in Milwaukee and Madison, she explains. She says there are plans to sell at farmers markets in the Chicago area this summer.
With no cheese making scheduled in January because it's a low-production month for the Hedriches' milking herd of about 500, Hedrich will be spending extra time on marketing. This will include a trip to Minnesota late in January to work with a distributor.
Connections with distributors are essential for marketing success because small producers have limited resources, Hedrich explains. She credits Saxon Creamery, which specializes in its own line of cheeses made from milk produced by its grazed mixed-breed dairy herd, for its early stage help in opening doors for sales and in providing contacts for other potential customers.
The Hedriches' distribution needs are also being served by Vern's Cheese, which has its headquarters less than two miles from the family's LaClare Farms and operates a food distribution network that covers most of Wisconsin and parts of adjacent states. Saxon, Vern's and a few other distributors "are a blessing to us for moving product," Hedrich observes.
Evalon goat cheeses can be found at West Allis Cheese & Sausage, Sendik's Food Markets in the Milwaukee area, Larry's Market in Brown Deer, Nala's Fromagerie in Green Bay, and the Madison group that includes Hy-Vee, the Willy and Jennifer Street markets, Metcalf's, and Fromagination. Another goat cheese outlet is Lucy's Whey with two artisanal cheese shops in the New York metropolitan area.
Other products from the Hedriches' goat milk are ice cream made at Laloo's in Petaluma, Calif., and bottled milk from Lamers Dairy in Appleton. They are also affiliated with the Pastoral food service in Chicago and Elegant Foods of Madison, and they indicate there's no easy way to track all of the restaurants that are buying from the distributors.
One dimension of marketing that will be continued in 2011, with additional help from Hedrich's sister-in-law, Angela, wife of her brother, Greg, will be in-store demonstrations. They have been conducted in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Minneapolis with hopes that Chicago will be added to the list this year, Hedrich notes. When possible, she takes her father, Larry, along "because he likes to talk," she chuckles.
With or without the presence of her father, who's also the chief milker for the goat herd, Hedrich says many of the visitors at the in-store demonstrations are impressed at being able to meet and talk to someone from a farm because farmers seldom handle those demonstrations themselves. In addition to the likelihood that the product will sell itself on the basis of taste, texture and visual appeal, Hedrich says the best overall approach for marketing is to be honest, tell your story.
For the Hedriches, that story is a family-based one because of everyone's involvement in developing the goat herd for which commercial milking began in 1996. One sign of how everyone is included is the fact that the milking herd has members of all six of the major dairy goat breeds - that's because each family member has a particular favorite.
Larry Hedrich, who also has 24 years of experience in the construction field, is handling the technical and logistical details of the planned homestead plant. He notes that this is a huge investment project for which the financing is not yet complete.
In anticipation of the new venture, the Hedriches' daughter, Anna, and her husband, Mike Zastrow, of Brownsville in southern Fond du Lac County, have already purchased 200 dairy goats to provide an additional source of milk supply. Anna also frequently helps with milking at the home farm.
The Hedriches' son, Greg, helps with technical- and computer-related aspects of the project, their daughter, Jessica, handles the artistic design for packages and point-of-sale displays, their college student daughter, Heather, is involved with the social networking efforts, such as setting up the Facebook page, and Clara, who is a vocational agriculture teacher in De Pere, is described by Hedrich as "the boss." For her part, Hedrich says, "I'll play in the vat of cheese."
On her winning the scholarship application, Hedrich predicted that "10 years from now I will be the head cheesemaker and cream manager at my family's homestead creamery. I will be making a complete line of Wisconsin original goat milk cheeses from fresh bloomy to raw aged. I would like to be the first female master goat milk cheesemaker."
If the plans for the homestead plant - not the same as a farmstead plant, which would be on one's home farm - work out according to the Hedriches' anticipated timetable, Hedrich would be several years ahead of her stated goals. At the home farm, the Hedriches are keeping their milking and replacement herds separate in anticipation of also setting up a agritourism venture.
Before that, the family hopes to be busy getting its own facility built and in production. They're projecting that it will have nine full-time and 15 part-time employees.
At the moment, they're using about one-third of their herd's milk to make cheese, but they've also committed to providing a certain long-term volume to the Quality Dairy Goat Producers Cooperative of Wisconsin, for which Larry Hedrich also serves as the manager. The cooperative sells or has sold its milk to such processors as Carr Valley Cheese, Sartori Foods, Belmont Cheese, Laloo's, Sunshine Distributors, and the Nordic Creamery.
The Hedriches can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone numbers include 920-849-2926 at the farm home, Larry Hedrich's cell at 920-850-4733 and Katie Hedrich's cell at 920-418-2302.