Small Dairy Farm & Value Creation

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Kevin and Ranae Dietzel, owners of a small dairy herd near Jewell, Iowa, named their signature cheese after this cow, Ingrid. Amy Mayer

A lovely little piece from the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA), that illustrates again how the production of artisanal cheeses can add value, in this case to an otherwise economically challenged farming enterprise

On a clear, cold winter evening, the sun begins to set at Lost Lake Farm near Jewell, Iowa, and Kevin Dietzel calls his 15 dairy cows to come home.

“Come on!” he hollers in a singsong voice. “Come on!”

Brown Swiss cows and black Normandy cows trot across the frozen field and, in groups of four, are ushered into the small milking parlor.:

Unstable milk prices that rarely get very high have forced most dairies to grow their herds to make money on volume. In general, farmers rarely keep only one or two cows in a red barn as is so often depicted in children’s books. Dietzel, who has 15 milking cows, is among the small-dairy farmers in the U.S. trying to turn a profit without having to churn out substantially more milk.

“My business plan was to add value to that milk by making cheese,” Dietzel says.

Increasing demand for upscale, local foods has created a market for on-farm cheese-makers like Dietzel. Profit is not guaranteed and the upfront investment is significant, but it’s the model Dietzel has chosen.

Dietzel had always been interested in dairy farming, but when he finally decided to give it a go, he found himself in central Iowa, where land is expensive and dairy herds are few. He and his wife built a cheesery with a milking parlor on one end, and through a separate entrance, a near-sterile looking room filled with stainless steel and food-grade plastic. At the entrance, Dietzel trades his warm hat and coat for a hairnet and apron and gets to work massaging curds into wheels of cheese.

His signature product is Ingrid’s Pride, named for one of the cows. It’s a cheese related to provolone, but made using Dietzel’s own technique and featuring a unique flavor related to the grasses his cows eat. Dietzel’s hand-made, small-batch processing means he can sell cheese for more than what a big company like Kraft or Cabot could.

“We have to do something that’s a little bit more original and is also going to be worth that money,” he says. “Hopefully, we’re doing that.”…

Read the whole story here.

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