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Creamery opening in front of Giant

Iowa dairy farmer makes cheese and ice cream

March 2, 2014
by Chuck Hunt - Register Editor (chunt@faribaultcountyregister.com) , Faribault County Register

"Smile and say 'cheese!"

This phrase is repeated over and over all summer long near the statue of the Green Giant in Blue Earth as they snap pictures with the Big Guy.

Soon folks will be able to do more than just say 'cheese,' they will be able to sample it as well.

Article Photos

The new Crazy Cow Creamery, located in the former Food and Fuel building in front of Giant Park, opened its doors this week.

"We are going to start being open on Fridays only, from 3 to 6 p.m.," says the Crazy Cow Creamery owner, Bruce Meinders. "And we will start with a limited selection."

In fact, Meinders is promoting having fresh cheese curds available for fans of the special treat.

But, he has hundreds of pounds of cheese being made each week, with most of it in a cooler being aged.

As demand and customer traffic increase, Meinders says he will be increasing the hours at the store.

"I am sure we will be open much more in the summer," he says. "We will just have to see how it goes. We will start expanding our hours when the demand grows."

The Crazy Cow Creamery story began last April when Meinders, who owns a dairy farm near Buffalo Center, Iowa, wanted to move his cheese making operation to Minnesota.

"We found this building and it was perfect," he says. "It even had a walk-in cooler and walk-in freezer, which is just what we needed."

Meinders had started making cheese two years ago on his farm, as well as making butter and bottling his own milk.

"We had some issues with Iowa regulations," he says. "Minnesota is much more business friendly."

So, he spent last summer moving his equipment to Blue Earth. He has been making cheese here for several months.

"I specialize in cheddar style cheese, sharp and mild," he says. "But we make a five-pepper cheese and other kinds as well."

Those other cheeses include farmer's cheese (basically fresh, unaged cheddar) and jalapeno.

And then, there are those cheese curds, which include a Ranch-style version. Meinders say they are extremely popular and he plans on marketing both cheese and curds to local area stores.

And, he plans on adding ice cream treats to the line-up of products by summer. "We will make our own ice cream and have pre-packaged individual cups for sale," he says. "It will be like a pre-made ice cream sundae."

Meinders is making cheese in a back room of the building once or twice a week.

It is quite a process, but when he is done with a batch, he has taken 700 pounds of milk and created 600 pounds of cheese.

The first step is to pasteurize the milk by heating it to over 145 degrees. Then it has to be cooled back to 88 degrees when it is transferred to the cheese tank.

Meinders adds culture and rennert to make the cheese. It is stirred by automation while the curds and whey separate. He also can add other ingredients, such as five peppers or jalapeno,

After that, the liquid is taken off, and the "soft as pudding" cheese is cut into hunks. The cheese curds are heated up to 102 degrees to cook.

Later, Meinders wraps the cheese in plastic and puts it in the cooler to age. It takes a month for mild cheddar to age and up to a year for sharp cheddar.

"It takes all day to make one batch and can be labor intensive," Meinders says. "That is why I have been only doing it a day or two a week."

Besides, he gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day to milk his cows and then does it again each night.

"I have a robotic milking system in place," he explains. "But, it still takes some time."

Plus, he needs time for the family. He and his wife Stacie have two kids, Ava, 5, and Ben, 2 plus one more "on the way."

Son Ben often accompanies mom and dad to Blue Earth to play while they make cheese.

Meinders says he decided to open the store on a limited basis now to see what sort of response he gets. He says he plans on adding other types of cheese and a variety of ice cream flavors once he gets things going.

"We want to keep building up the business," he says. "We will add new products as time goes on."

The cheese maker also plans on marketing his products to area convenience stores.

"That is why we sell our cheese curds in both four ounce and eight ounce cups," he explains. "That is what folks like to buy."

When he gets rolling he plans on making both ice cream and butter, besides cheese.

"Nothing we make will be 'low-fat' because we use real dairy products," he says. "All fat is not bad for you."

Meinders would like to start experimenting with other types of cheeses. He is already doing a bacon and a ranch cheese curd, but he would also like to try a smoke stout cheese.

"I would like to find someone to help me make some other Mexican cheeses besides jalapeno," he says.

Eventually, if the traffic at the Crazy Cow Creamery takes off and the cheese curds become popular, the farmer turned entrepreneur hopes he will have to start hiring employees and be making cheese everyday and staying open more days and longer hours in the summer.

"It will be interesting to see what happens this summer," he says. "I really don't know what to expect for how many folks will stop in."

He hopes it will be enough to keep real busy.

 
 

 

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