Two dairy farmers find that cheddar is better

Two dairy farmers find that cheddar is better

Cahalan, Steve

GAYS MILLS, Wis. – Dairy farmer Mark Burbach of rural Gays Mills decided two years ago to be creative in the face of low milk prices.

“Milk prices were quite low then,” Burbach said last week, “I casually mentioned that instead of us sitting around complaining about it, we should do something about it ourselves.”

Ile made that suggestion at a meeting of a loosely knit group known as the Great River Graziers – it’s for anyone interested in grazing issues and primarily is made up of dairy and beef producers from Crawford County. The group holds “pasture walks,” which gives members a chance to discuss grazing issues.

At the meeting, Burbach suggested having cheese made from their own cows’ milk and selling it directly to consumers and retail stores.

Doug Spany of rural Wauzeka, Wis. was at the meeting and thought Burbach had a good idea.

Two years later, the two families are selling their own cheese under the Still Meadows Cheese label. They formed Still Meadows Farms LLC, which has its cheese made at the Cedar Grove Cheese plant in Plain, Wis., from milk from the Burbach and Spany farms. Occasionally, it also uses milk from the farms of other Great River Graziers members.

The first batch of cheese was made in May 2000, and the two families began selling some of it around Thanksgiving that year.

Spany and Burbach expect to have about 27,000 pounds of cheese made this year, about twice as much as in 2001, because of increased sales. That will consume between onefourth and one-third of the milk their cows produce. The two farms each have about 60 milking cows.

Spany and Burbach deliver the cheese to about 30 retail stores and a few restaurants. In this area, it’s available at the People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse; some Quillin’s supermarkets in La Crosse and Waukon, Iowa; Johnson’s One Stop in Seneca, Wis.; Jubilee Foods in Viroqua, Wis.; Stovey’s IGA in Soldier’s Grove, Wis.; and at the Oneota Community Co-op in Decorah, Iowa.

Spany said the 30-some retail stores also include some food cooperatives and “high-end” grocery stores in the Twin Cities and Rochester, Minn.; and Milwaukee and Madison, Wis. The two families also will sell their cheese at a farmer’s market in Milwaukee this summer. And they plan to eventually market their cheese in the Chicago area.

Burbach and Spany said all of their products are Cheddar cheese. Their product lines have expanded to include mild, medium and aged cheddar; sharp cheddar; horseradish cheddar; roasted garlic cheddar; onion-chive cheddar; salami cheddar and shredded cheddar. They started selling Still Meadows Cheese curds about three weeks ago.

In the fliers used to promote their cheeses, the families say the milk comes from family-run dairy farms and is produced without rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). The fliers also say the two families are committed to using only farm-fresh fluid milk in their cheeses, at a time when cheese factories commonly use powdered milk, imported protein concentrates and casein to reduce production costs.

Taste is the number-one reason why customers buy Still Meadows Cheese, Spany said. By using only fresh fluid milk, he said, “The flavor stands out. It’s the way cheese tasted 30 years ago.”

Spany said he frequently hears compliments from shoppers at food-sampling events at stores. “That’s the payoff for all the extra legwork – hearing people say ‘That’s really good cheese,’ he said.

Still Meadows Farms LLC doesn’t have any employees, other than the two families. Doug and his wife Carol Spany, and Mark and his wife, Jo, and son Andy Burbach, comprise the work force.

Doug Spany, 52, was raised in Minneapolis and his wife grew up in Portland, Ore. He was a professional beekeeper near Portland for five years until he became allergic to bee stings. Then, in 1986, he and his wife bought their farm near Wauzeka. At first, they raised sheep and steers. For the last nine years, it primarily has been a dairy farm.

Spany said he and his wife chose Crawford County because they wanted to live in a rural area, to farm and to be able to buy land at a reasonable price.

Mark Burbach, 46, was raised on a dairy farm near Dickeyville, Wis., and his wife grew up between Wauzeka and Boscobel, Wis. The couple bought their farm near Wauzeka in 1984.

Copyright La Crosse Tribune Apr 01, 2002

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