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Idaho dairy lives by the motto 'The only thing better than cheese is more cheese'

Progressive Dairyman Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 15 October 2015
Jersey cows

At their annual company meeting in August, Progressive Publishing employees had the opportunity to tour and sample the products at Ballard Family Dairy and Cheese in Gooding, Idaho. Steve Ballard shared their farm's story while serving up several varieties of their farmstead cheese.

Steve and his wife, Stacie, came to Idaho from southern California. Neither had prior experience running a dairy operation, but they decided they loved the lifestyle. They started with 30 Jersey springers. Once they freshened, Stacie was milking four hours every morning and every evening in a single-four herringbone parlor. In 1999, the family upgraded to a double-10 parallel parlor. At one point, they had grown the herd to 160 cows.

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In 2000, Steve says the family began discussing the need for a change. They didn't want to grow the herd larger, so they began looking into value-added products and direct marketing. From there, they began touring a lot of other operations and doing research. Steve used his old hometown address in California in order to take a course from the California Milk Marketing Board. They also took a course from the University of Wisconsin.

grilling cheese

In 2004, they built a cheese plant. They started with cheese curds, making seven different varieties. They eventually began experimenting with aged cheeses.

A favorite among the Progressive Publishing staff was Ballard's Golden Greek grillin' cheese. Steve says Stacie was reluctant to make it at the plant, fearing that it would be hard to market. The couple learned that it gave them a unique angle when introducing their product line. Steve came prepared with a hot plate, a skillet and cooking supplies.

"This is a really fun cheese that you can grill and experiment with," Steve says. "It got people back in the kitchen."

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Story continues below video.


Today, the family milks 110 Jersey cows. They process cheese twice a week, packaging somewhere between 1,200 to 1,500 pounds. They use up to 40 percent of the herd's milk for their farmstead cheese and ship the remaining 60 percent to Glanbia.

While the family does attend farmers markets in southern Idaho, the bulk of their business comes through wholesale. They deliver their products to a variety of grocery stories and restaurants throughout Idaho and ship cheese all over the U.S. One of their first retailers was Winco, and they learned a lot about packaging through that experience. In fact, much of the success of the cheese business has been through trial and error.

"I learn something new every day," Steve says. "I expect to the rest of my life."  PD

PHOTO 1: Steve Ballard says the family prefers to keep their Jersey herd closed, growing internally and selling off portions of the herd when needed.

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PHOTO 2: A favorite product among the Progressive Publishing staff was the grilling cheese, which Steve heated and seasoned before serving, using a skillet and hot plate. Photos by Jenna Hurty.

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