MYAKKA CITY, FL - When Allen Bassler accepted a job as the first cheesemaker on Dakin Dairy Farm in Florida, part of the deal was that he would be able to bring with him his 10 dairy cows, including his six-time World Dairy Expo champion cow Snickerdoodle.
“The last time I showed her at Expo in 2013, as a dry cow at age 15, she received a standing ovation,” Bassler says.
Snickerdoodle now rests comfortably in a pasture at the 1,600 cow dairy while Bassler makes several types of cheese in the on-farm cheese plant. The farm also bottles and direct-markets the milk from their herd and also operates a composting business and agri-tourism adventure enterprise.
Bassler says, “Snickerdoodle has had over 50 embryo flushes. The plan is to put her frozen embryos in the cows here.”
Life-long interest in Swiss
Bassler’s interest in raising Brown Swiss dates back to his 4-H years, beginning in 1975 when he started with a club calf. After five generations of careful breeding he developed Snickerdoodle who now has 150 off-spring milking in 15 countries of the world.
Her highest-scored daughter, Old Mill Starbuck Spottie-ET EX-94 2E, resides in the United Kingdom, where she has had a successful show career herself.
In total, Snickerdoodle has 20 Excellent daughters in the U.S. and at least a dozen Excellent daughters in the UK and the rest of Europe.
Her daughters and granddaughters have found success in the show ring, but Snickerdoodle’s larger influence on the breed is already evident through her sons. Her Primetime son, Old Mill WDE Supreme-ET, was sold as an embryo to fellow Brown Swiss breeder Wayne Sliker of Ohio, who gave the bull his memorable name.
Snickerdoodle made the 18-hour trip from her Upperville, Virginia, home nine times over her career – and nine times, she was a class winner at the show.
She’s the only cow of all breeds to win every milking class at World Dairy Expo and holds the record for number of grand championships. She topped off her Madison resumé with a supreme champion title in 2003 and reserve supreme champion titles in 2008 and 2009.
While at age 18, she is not a part of the milking string at the Dakin farm near Sarasota, the 15,000 visitors coming to the farm each year enjoy seeing her relax with other animals that are featured on the school and tourist tours.
Cheesemaker on farm
Bassler says his original plan was to be a full-time dairy farmer, but he believes it is a good thing that did not happen. By working as a cheesemaker and housing his cows on other farms, he was able to concentrate on the breeding part of developing an outstanding cow without being distracted by the complexities of raising feed and managing a herd.
He has also judged dairy shows in Peru, Columbia, Ecuador and Australia.
Bassler had been making cheese in Virginia but when the last of the family passed away and closed the business, he found himself out of a job. That’s when he relocated to Florida to help the Dakin family develop their on-farm cheese plant.
Jerry and Karen Dakin had been looking for additional ways to add value to their dairy enterprise. They were already bottling and marketing milk to restaurants and stores in Florida. They believed cheese, highly consumed by restaurants, fit well with their distribution.
The Dakins converted a 40-foot by 25-foot space next to their bottling plant, invested in a $250,000 stretching machine and brought in Bassler to help them develop the cheese.
They got a good deal on the equipment when a buffalo milk mozzarella maker in Clearwater, Florida went out of business after a large shipment of their cheese got held up in port and spoiled. That cheesemaker had not been in business long enough to survive the loss and the Dakins were able to purchase his equipment at a good price.
Bassler has taken on-line cheesemaking classes from Wisconsin’s Center for Dairy Research and has learned a lot about cheesemaking through trial and error.
One thing he learned at the Dakin farm was that the milk was too hot in the pasteurizer and the cheese didn’t stretch properly. They dealt with that issue by having a special setting in the pasteurizer for milk that will be used for cheese. The hotter setting is used for the milk that the family bottles and distributes throughout the state.
Bassler and Dakin plan to come to Wisconsin in April to compete in the cheese contest and hopefully learn more from the experience.
“I really like cheesemaking because I feel like I’m in control,” he notes. “The cheese I make is very popular but in contests, I find the biggest hurdle is competing against the Wisconsin cheese.”