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Dairy Farming Mamas: How I make and market my own cheese without on-farm processing

Heather Moore for Progressive Dairyman Published on 22 January 2018

Early in 2017, milk market security weighed heavily on our minds. While our market is safe and our creamery has not dropped any patrons, we were looking for ways to be more profitable and secure a future market for our milk. Now, just a year later, I’m selling my very own Moore Family Farms cheese.

Our alternative to on-farm processing

We thought long and hard about expanding our herd beyond its current 50 cows, but decided that it wasn’t such a good fit, as we would have to stop custom-feeding cattle and we would lose the risk management that our diversity offers. Also my husband, Brandon, is very much opposed to becoming a full-time dairy farmer (or even part-time, for that matter), and he would have to take on a bigger role should we have more animals.

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Next, we talked about on-farm processing. We weren’t keen on the investment that building a creamery would take up front, but we thought maybe we could test the waters by having some cheese custom made. We started the long process of finding a creamery that could do custom makes. I made cold calls to many of the creameries in eastern Iowa with no luck. Meanwhile, I contacted the Iowa Dairy Products Control Bureau, and many other state departments and bureaus, to better understand the ins and outs of marketing our own dairy products.

I cast my net a little wider and contacted a couple of creameries in Wisconsin that do custom makes on a regular basis. We decided on cheddar cheese, so if the cheese didn’t sell, it would just age and we wouldn’t be stuck with a product we weren’t able to eat on our own. The first processor I met with fell through, and I called a small creamery who was able to help us out. I contacted our field man for our regular creamery and convinced him that it would be a good idea to let us keep one load a month to make into our own product. I also had to talk to our milk inspector and her supervisor and relay that information back to the field man so we were all on the same page. I asked a lot of questions that hadn’t been asked before, and I am very thankful that they were all willing to work with me on this harebrained idea. Our hauler agreed to truck our milk to the creamery, several hours away.

With the help of a college friend who is a USDA food inspector, we designed a label with a photo of our farm and a cow from one of our foundation families displayed prominently. We had to send the label to be approved by the state as well.

Opening up shop

In September, it all came together and we sent just over 7,000 pounds of milk to be made into “Moore Family Farms mild cheddar.” It took about six weeks to complete the process: making the cheddar, aging and cutting and packaging. On a rainy November day, I brought 700 1-pound blocks of cheddar back to the storefront that we rented (which is another story in itself) and opened Moore Family Farms Holiday Shop on Main Street in Maquoketa, Iowa. Since opening on Nov. 11, we have sold all of the first batch of cheese and part of the second batch we sent up in October.

Our cheese is featured in five retail locations, has been shipped to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington and North Carolina, and is enjoyed in several more states, including Alaska. It’s been a great adventure so far, and we’re excited to announce that our holiday shop was successful enough to decide to keep it open year-round to market our cheese and other local and specialty products. We can’t wait to see what this year holds!  end mark

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Heather Moore is a dairy farming mama herself, raising three little boys with her husband, Brandon. The Moore family has a 50-cow dairy and custom feeds 800 head of beef cattle near Maquoketa, Iowa. When she is not chasing around cows and kids, you'll find her volunteering, cooking and very occasionally, sleeping.

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