Redhead Creamery History

The begin­ning

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 FarmMt. Mans­field Cream­ery,  Green Moun­tain Blue CheeseSpring 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.

2014: CHEESE

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!