9/16/2013 9:57:00 AM Breaking ground Jer-Lindy Farms to be site for new cheesemaking facility
Linda and Jerry Jennissen along with their daughter and son-in-law, Alise and Lucas Sjostrom, with their daughter, Lucy, stand in the spot where they will build a cheese-making facility on their dairy, Jer-Lindy Farm, near Padua, Minn. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
by Bryan Zollman
PADUA, Minn. - Alise (Jennissen) Sjostrom knew in high school she wanted to one day make her own cheese on her own farm. Now, at 27, she is finding out her dream is becoming a reality. Alise, her husband, Lucas, and parents, Jerry and Linda Jennissen, hope to break ground next month on Redhead Creamery, a 2,600-square foot building on Jer-Lindy Farms, the dairy farm south of Padua where Alise grew up. The creamery is named after Alise and her three other redheaded sisters, and came to fruition after Alise became pregnant with the couple's first child. Early on, the Sjostroms decided they wanted to raise their children on a farm. Lucas, who is in graduate school for dairy management at the University of Minnesota, also has a strong agricultural background, having grown up on a dairy and crop farm near Lafayette, Minn. "We both had the life of growing up on the farm and we want that for our children," Sjostrom said. "When we found out I was pregnant, we started thinking about coming back home." After college the couple spent time in Vermont and Wisconsin, where Sjostrom became immersed in the cheese industry. Having graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural industries and marketing with a dairy food quality emphasis, she got real-world experience working at an award-winning cheese company in Vermont for two years. The couple then moved to Wisconsin, where she worked at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese. Her previous experience at Crave Brothers during a high school 4-H tour was her inspiration for creating a farmstead cheese-making practice of her own. Redhead Creamery is also unique because it will use milk generated from the 180 cows on her parents' dairy farm. The milk will be piped into the new cheese-making factory, located just 50 feet from the barn. "Our whole dream has been to help educate people about dairy and agriculture," Sjostrom said. "Not many cheese makers use their own milk to make their cheese. We have an anaerobic digester here as well, which produces electricity from cow manure. We hope to add whey to make it even more efficient." According to Sjostrom, making cheese is similar to making bread from scratch. The milk is heated to a certain temperature before the cultures are added. Cultures are frozen packages of powdered bacteria that give the cheese its flavor characteristics. Rennet is added to cause the milk to coagulate and become a yogurt-like substance. It then separates into curds and whey then cut with a knife and is salted. Jer-Lindy Farms will also use the whey to feed the cows. The curds are used to make the cheese. "You can put it in a mold to shape it, or you can sell it as curds," she said. The process takes about six hours. Sjostrom and her mom, Linda, will make their cheese in 10-pound wheels, and hope to sell through direct mail and to cheese outlets, restaurants and some small grocers. They also plan to sell it at select farmers' markets. "We are only going to concentrate on three or four different cheeses to start," Alise said. "We want to be really good at a few kinds of cheeses." So far they have experimented with different types of cheddar using a cayenne pepper rub, an ash rub, a Gruyere rub and a bandage wrap. They will age their cheese from six months to a year in one of their two caves. "The more it ages the better it tastes," Sjostrom said. "It's sharper and more crumbly." The Sjostroms also hope to sell freshly-made curds on site and locally, as they develop more of the aged products. "Hopefully, we will be making the aged cheeses by next spring and selling it by next fall," she said. Sjostrom plans to do the cheesemaking with Linda, while Lucas will concentrate on marketing and sales of the products. They will attend the Minnesota Cheese Festival at the state fairgrounds Sept. 14-15, where they will sell curds they made during their experimentation stage at the U of M and also bring in dairy animals for a petting zoo. But before they start making the cheese at Redhead Creamery, they must get the building up and running. They plan to break ground next month, but for now are in the process of securing funding. They are using an innovative way to generate funds through a social media campaign called Kickstarter. According to kickstarter.com, Kickstarter has been helping fund creative projects since 2009. More than 4.7 million people have raised more than $769 million to fund more than 47,000 projects. Redhead Creamery is just one of those projects, but so far the campaign has worked with 42 percent of their goal of $35,000 reached. "It's just a small part of the entire project, but it would go a long way in helping us," Sjostrom said. Most of the support has come from family and friends, but Sjostrom said they have been receiving donations from people they don't know who found them through Kickstarter.com. They have used Facebook and Twitter to get the word out. If they do not reach their goal they do not get any of the funding. If they go over their goal, they receive all the funds minus the percent taken by Kickstarter. Those who donate receive certain perks and products depending on the amount they pledge. They can receive anything from a postcard to an intimate dinner on the farm. In addition to the Kickstarter campaign, the Sjostroms hope to secure another grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and acquire a loan for the remainder of the project. They will be 90-10 partners with Sjostrom's parents, Jerry and Linda. The building will include two aging cellars where temperature and humidity levels are controlled. There will be an area where the cheese is made using a vat and a press. There will also be a walk-in cooler and small bathroom. The upstairs will be an area where people can tour the facility and watch the cheese being made through a row of windows. Both U of M Golden Gopher fans, one day they hope to sell maroon and gold cheese curds at Gopher football games. But for now they will focus on getting Redhead Creamery off the ground. And when they do, a childhood dream will have come true. "It's very overwhelming," Sjostrom said. "You dream it up and all of a sudden it starts to happen. We're doing it. It's not 'someday' anymore." For more information on Redhead Creamery go to www.redheadcreamery.com or like their Facebook page.