When I thought about June as “Dairy Month,” I kept thinking about the different types of dairy farms and milking parlors I’ve seen. Individuals and families make up about 86.8% of dairy farms in Wisconsin, according to the USDA. And, in case you don’t know, parlors are where dairy cows are milked. The different styles include walk-through or step-up, herringbone, swing, parallel and rotary.
So, I thought I’d take you on a virtual tour of a few different types of farms and milking operations so you see where your milk, cheese and butter come from. Since the Wisconsin Agriculture Statistics Service (WASS) says about 90% of Wisconsin milk goes into cheesemaking, this week’s tour stop will be with a farm that mainly sells its milk for cheese.
Welcome to the Brandl Farm in Clinton, owned by Dave and Anne Brandl. Dave’s been milking for about 35 years and on this farm for 28. He and his sons milk about 200 cows — a good sized dairy farm as the average number of cows per farm in Wisconsin is 105 (WASS, 2011).
Brandl’s Farm is part of the Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative in Monroe. They were one of 13 farms that started the co-op in 2006. Now the co-op boasts about 175 farms and the milk goes to various cheese plants in and around Monroe.
Rolling Hills picks up milk from the Brandls seven days per week and gathers about 18,500 pounds daily. That’s equivalent to picking up a little over 2,151 gallons of milk daily or in cheese terms: about 1,888 pounds of cheese (based on 9.8 lbs of whole milk = 1 lb. of whole milk cheese). That’s a lot of cheese.
Dave and sons milk three times per day in a parallel (or side by side) parlor. The easy way of describing parallel parlors is to say the cows’ butts are facing the milkers on both sides. :) See how pristine they keep the parlor?
Dave once allowed our friends Andrea Stone and Steve Zuckerman, from Washington DC, to experience a dairy farm and milk a cow. So they joined Dave during milking. They’re not the only visitors. Dave’s son, Matt, just hosted a fourth grade class recently who enjoyed their tour and the dairy products they received as a treat.
A lot of dairy farms milk two times per day, but milking three times, as the Brandls do, can increase milk production by as much as 10 percent (according to Environmental Protection Agency, EPA). One cow on the Brandl farm means 92 pounds of milk per day and about 28,000 pounds per year. And it takes about 5-7 minutes to milk one cow.
The rest of the time is feeding and caring for the cows. When I arrived to take pictures, the cows were happily eating. They relax in what’s considered the “gold standard” of bedding: sand. Among many sand bedding perks are: it offers extra comfort for cows and there are milk quality benefits for us. So you could say the Brandl’s cows are very happy cows. :)
All this talk about cheese made me hungry. So, I headed to The Cheese People of Beloit – a family-owned store, after the family-owned farm.
The Cheese People store is run by Darren and Judith Larsen. Judith’s sister and husband, Sarah and Jon Hanchett, introduced the Larsens to “life as cheesemongers,” since they have served the farmer’s markets of both Chicago and Quincy, IL area.
Darren and Judith primarily focus on Wisconsin cheeses, “with a couple of exports that can’t be matched,” said Darren. Together they’re an “unofficial co-op” and serve 85 farmers markets per week!
I went to see the Cheese People to create a dessert cheese course. Forget appetizers, let’s have some fun with dessert. So here’s your “recipe:”
Cheese Board Dessert
Select 3-4 cheeses – a variety of milder cheeses that are hard or soft, to end simple meals
Fresh fruits and berries, to complement the cheeses
Crackers and cookies, for sweeter cheeses
Sparkling, blush or Moscato wines
Arrange on a board or tray and enjoy!
The Cheese People helped me build this board.
First, I selected a double-smoked gouda – which tastes great with apples and pears. In this case, The Cheese People get the gouda from Maple Leaf Cheese in Monroe, then smokes it in-store in organic applewood.
Then, we added a sweet cream pistachio log. The Cheese People create a log of cheddar, with a touch of blue cheese, then rolls it in pistachios. Even the hesitant dessert-eaters enjoyed this!
The only cheese that came directly from the manufacturer, without modifying, was the Sartori Raspberry BellaVitano. And, believe me, there’s no reason to modify it! This creamy, nutty cheese has a rind soaked in raspberry tart ale. So your fruit is already “in” the cheese! Introduced in 2008, it was deemed Best New Cheese by the World Cheese Awards and has been winning awards ever since.
Lastly, a sweet cream Havarti was added from the Decatur Dairy in Brodhead. The Cheese People age it for another 10 months and it just melts in your mouth. In fact, I’m not sure any was left after our photo shoot!
Apples, pears, kiwi, strawberries, crackers, cookies and chocolates were added — and dessert was complete. Try it! Your fun starts when you start sampling cheeses to make your own statement with a cheese dessert board!
Next week: a robotic dairy farm!