Natural, local and from a family farm

John Oncken

A growing trend among consumers these days is the desire to buy food that is produced locally, by family farmers from natural ingredients. That’s a bit hard to do with some products like grapefruit, oranges, pineapple and bananas among others but many foods can fit the bill. 

Take yogurt as an example: Woodman’s Market on the east side of Madison has a humongous display of yogurts—probably 300 (or so) different yogurts in all according to Ernie Allington, the dairy manager.

“Probably 250 single serve varieties and 50 in bigger size containers,” he says. “They come and go.”

“How many of these hundreds of yogurts are made in Wisconsin from local milk,” I asked. “I can think of three,” Ernie said. “Oddessy that comes from Klondike Cheese in Monroe has been around for several years, Organic Valley Co-op at LaFarge is has an organic yogurt and the newest one, Yodelay, is made in Madison and has been in our store for about a year.”

Bryan Voegeli and some of his Brown Swiss cows.

At a dairy breakfast

Although I was sort of aware of Yodelay brand yogurt, I had not met it up close until a week ago at the Green County Breakfast on the Farm where Bryan Voegeli was providing taste tests and samples of Yodelay yogurt from his  booth in the exhibit building.  He was also providing a sample container of the yogurt to each of the 5,000 “eaters” going through the food line.

Longtime friends

I have known Bryan Voegeli, his brother,Jim and dad,Howard (one of the original World Dairy Expo founders who died in 2003) for many years, mostly through their Brown Swiss dairy herd and Dairy Expo and wondered about the Voegeli “yogurt connection.”

To find out more, I visited Bryan at the farm which is located between New Glarus and Monticello. The farmstead has a pasture area between it and the nearby Highway 69 that is often filled with Brown Swiss heifers that I’m guessing were the subject of many a photo taken passersby.

Strawberry, rhubarb and blueberry are among the many fresh fruit Yodelay  flavors offered.

Meet Markus

Bryan said that his dad often talked about using their milk for special products such as cheese or yogurt but nothing came of the idea. That is until Bryan was introduced to Markus Candinas by Dan Carter and Norm Monson of the Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Center (DBIC) several years ago.

"The DBIC was a publicly funded organization to help dairy-related people across the country with various projects," Candinas said. "They accepted my yogurt idea as a project for DBIC, which brought me to Bryan Voegeli."

Candinas was a well-known chocolate maker (Candinas Chocolatier at Verona), the son of Swiss immigrants and had spent time in Switzerland learning the business of making chocolate but had a longtime urge to make fine Swiss yogurt.

The success of his chocolate business provided an incentive to get more involved in his dreams of making Swiss style yogurt and he began serious plans to do so some ten years ago.

Dream come true

He had developed recipes and was assembling a processing plant to make such a yogurt, named it Yodelay, and needed a source of milk.

Voegeli Farms fit that need, a fifth generation farm family known worldwide for their Brown Swiss dairy cattle and with a ready supply of milk—Brown Swiss milk.

"My dad had always looked for something unique to do with our milk,  he always wanted a special product to be a part of," Bryan Voegeli said. "My brother, Jimmy and I thought it was a good idea from the beginning.”          

Ernie Allington, at east Woodman Market’s dairy manager says the best selling Yodelay yogurt flavor is rhubarb.

Selling well

Yodelay began appearing on store shelves in Dane County in March 2017. 

“It’s selling very well for us," Woodman’s Allington says. “People like the taste and even though it is a bit higher priced than many others, they return and buy again, Swiss yogurt has this full flavor and light texture that really is different.”

Yodelay certainly fits the natural, local and family farm goals that many consumers seek in their food purchases. It’s made with milk from the 220 cow Voegeli herd that is milked in a parlor that replaced the tie stalls in the original dairy barn a few years ago.

Most of the milk is processed into cheese at the Chalet Cheese Co-op a few miles away  except for that which is hauled weekly to the Yodelay plant in Madison.

“We have our own tanker," Bryan says. “We had to get certified and must follow state regulations to haul the milk.”

A few of the “yogurt cows” at the feed bunk.

Since 1854

The Voegeli farm is home to internationally known Brown Swiss dairy cattle. Bryan Voegeli, his brother Jimmy, mother Alice, children Brienna and Christopher, and the farm’s great staff are all involved in this sixth-generation dairy farm that was homesteaded in 1854.

Both Bryan and Jimmy have UW-Madison Dairy Science degrees and Bryan’s son, Chris (the sixth generation Voegeli on the farm) has a degree in Animal Science from UW-Platteville. Bryan credits long-time employees including cow feeder Bryan Sherman, calf feeder Mike Christian, and part-time milker Lori Fahey for their many years working for the success of the dairy.

Since 6000 B.C.

The history of yogurt, now one of consumers' favorite foods is long and a bit vague. Most historical accounts date yogurt to the peoples of Central Asia in around 6000 B.C.. Herdsmen began the practice of milking their animals, and the natural enzymes in the carrying containers (animal stomachs) curdled the milk and people preferred the taste so continued the practice.

Turkish immigrants brought yogurt to North America in the 1700s but it really didn’t catch on until the 1940s when Daniel Carasso and Juan Metzger took over a small yogurt factory in the Bronx, New York—the company is now called Dannon in the United States.

The next time you buy yogurt, go a bit Swiss and try Yodelay, made by artisans in Madison from Wisconsin  Brown Swiss milk from cows raised on a family farm by a fifth and sixth generation family. (Find out more at

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or e-mail him at