Redhead Creamery started as a dream when Alise was 16. After visiting a farmstead creamery, she came home and told her parents that returning to the farm is what she wanted to do — but she didn’t want to milk cows. So, she kept working at it. In college, she designed her own major at the University of Minnesota revolving around cheese and dairy food quality. Alise’s first job was in the retail grocery world with Acosta Sales and Marketing in their Leadership Development Program, however she didn’t complete the program due to her marriage and relocation to Brattleboro, Vermont, with husband Lucas.
While in Vermont, Lucas and Alise - and once Jerry and Linda - spent weekends “vacationing” to artisan cheese plants throughout the state and New England, owing many of their plant design and flow ideas to Fat Toad Farm, Mt. Mansfield Creamery, Green Mountain Blue Cheese, Spring Brook Farm, Jericho Hill Farm, and Thistle Hill Farm, where the cheesemaker-owners took time out of their busy days to help blind neophytes find their way in the industry. Further help came from Alise’s Vermont employer, Grafton Village Cheese, and close friends at Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company, providing encouragement, advice, and a shared beer or two while we put our plans together.
About a half-dozen other Vermont cheese plants were visited during the exploration process, along with farmstead processing plants in New York, Massachusetts, Iowa, Rhode Island, Virginia, and more. During college, Alise visited Switzerland plants during a stay in that country, while Lucas visited an on-farm caramel maker in Brazil.
The world tour continued in Wisconsin in 2012, when Lucas found work in Fort Atkinson and Alise joined a Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo. The tight-knit Wisconsin industry allowed the partners to interact with renown cheesemakers such as Holland’s Family Cheese, the Roelli Cheese Haus, and Cesar’s Cheese, along with too many others to name. After two years in Wisconsin and with a baby on the way, Alise and Lucas knew it was time to be home. Alise worked for Stickney Hill Dairy for a short time, and aided the formation of the Minnesota Cheese Guild, with mentors Keith at Alemar, Elvin and Jeff with Caves of Faribault, Jodi at Shepherd’s Way, the team at Eichten’s, and Reuben at the soon-to-open Skyway Creamery answering every question Alise fired their way.
2013: The year it came together
In 2013, the four partners decided it was time to build a cheese plant on the farm. Using their previously absorbed design and make knowledge, they set out to permit, bid, and erect their plant during that winter. But first, in March and April, they made experimental batches at the University of Minnesota to make sure they could physically make good cheese. If it worked well, they would delay the cheese plant building and make cheese at the ‘U’ for a few years. It worked, but the costs were very high for the small batches they wanted to make, and it was decided a building was needed.
August 2013 was a real turning point for the partners. First, they attended the Minnesota Cheese Guild’s inaugural tasting at the now closed Heidi’s restaurant in Minneapolis on August 8. There, the chef and dinner attendees said the 5-month old cheese was good enough to eat, boosting their confidence to charge forward. In mid-August, Alise and Lucas launched a crowd-funding campaign at Kickstarter.com, hoping to garner some attention for their new plant. Garner they did, as the likes of Andrew Zimmern, Twin Cities food writers, and Facebookers across the world helped promote the project.
The Kickstarter project ended up raising $41,495 from 500 contributing people and families in exchange for cheese, on-farm dinners, and even cow naming rights. After paying a large chunk to Uncle Sam, they used the remaining funds as some seed money for the plant.
Simultaneously, the first step of construction was moving the granary, one of just two original farm outbuildings, from the pond area to the back grove to make way for the cheese plant. With the help of a family friend and three strong Amish workers, the granary stayed upright (barely) and made it’s 100-yard dash (well, more like crawl) across the farm place. They moved it on September 21. The first hole went in the ground for the septic system in October, and after some permitting fits and restarts, we were building through November. The roof was installed on December 6, which was nice because snow came for the first time on December 7.
Things were on track at one point to be done in spring 2014, but due to weather, subcontractor work schedules, and just plain bad luck it took several months before milk entered the cheese plant for the first time. In March, over 15 family and friends came for a tiling weekend to help complete the upstairs portion of the building, something the partners were going to wait for at first until learning they received a grant from the state of Minnesota.
In May, Lucas and his brother Jacob trekked to Wisconsin to pick up a cheese vat. Due to some bad luck, that vat only lasted about a month and a new one was needed. Finally, the vat arrived, the kinks of the plumbing were worked out, and on Saturday July 5, we tried to make cheese… and failed. But after a few weeks to work out some further plumbing and electrical kinks, our first batch of Bandage-Wrapped Farmhouse Aged Cheddar went into the Little Cave on July 17.
Since then, we’ve been making Aged Cheddar and our Ridiculously Good Cheese Curds alternatively three days a week.
Thanks for joining us on our journey, and don’t hesitate to to let us know if you have questions!