July 26, 2021 at 2:50 p.m.

Swiss-style yogurt takes off in Wisconsin

Yodelay made with milk from Voegeli Farms’ Brown Swiss
Bryan Voegeli (left) and Markus Candinas are partners in Yodelay Yogurt – a Swiss-style yogurt made exclusively from the milk of Voegeli’s 220-cow Brown Swiss herd located near Monticello, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Bryan Voegeli (left) and Markus Candinas are partners in Yodelay Yogurt – a Swiss-style yogurt made exclusively from the milk of Voegeli’s 220-cow Brown Swiss herd located near Monticello, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

    MONTICELLO, Wis. – Four years ago, a new type of yogurt entered the marketplace. It was heralded for its smooth, creamy texture and intense fruit flavor. Bearing notes of Switzerland, Yodelay Yogurt pushed its way onto store shelves in southern Wisconsin alongside traditional American yogurts and won awards for its unique taste. This Swiss-style yogurt is made exclusively with milk from the Brown Swiss cows at Voegeli Farms near Monticello.
    “It’s a very different product,” said Markus Candinas, founder of Yodelay Yogurt, which is made near Madison. “If you think you know what yogurt tastes like, Yodelay is not like that at all. We have a different way of making yogurt than others do, and it tastes really good.”
    Growing up in a yogurt-loving family that traveled often to Switzerland, Candinas desired to replicate the yogurt found in his parents’ native country where he said yogurt is consumed frequently throughout the day. The yogurts he encountered in the U.S. did not taste the same, and Candinas knew he could do better.
    His secret weapon is the Brown Swiss cow, whose high protein and butterfat-rich milk produce a flavor and texture like no other.
    “Their milk makes all the difference,” Candinas said. “How the milk is produced is also important, and that’s where Voegeli Farms comes in. They go that extra mile to take care of their cows and make a great product. We’re attracted to people who do things right, and I appreciate what they do on their farm.”
    Bryan Voegeli milks 220 registered Brown Swiss and farms 1,300 acres with his brother, Jim, and his son, Christopher. Cows are housed in a sand-bedded freestall barn and pastured whenever possible. The Voegelis milk twice a day, and cows average 4.5% butterfat and 3.5% protein produced with a low somatic cell count.
    Voegeli is the fifth generation on his family’s 167-year-old farm. Like Candinas, Voegeli’s family also came from Switzerland, and the white barns perched atop a hill housing Brown Swiss are a nod to the farm’s Swiss heritage.
    “We work hard at quality,” Voegeli said. “We take good care of our cows and have a well-trained team. My dad always wanted to make yogurt, and what we’re doing now reflects on the ideas he had. This is something unique. Yodelay Yogurt is handmade in small vats. It’s not a mass-produced product. It’s fresh and has incredible flavor.”
    Voegeli ships a small portion of his milk to Yodelay for making the Swiss-inspired yogurt.
    “Brown Swiss milk is different,” Voegeli said. “It’s high in protein and has great caseins, including the A2A2 casein which is connected to a lot of good health traits. Even though we are not certified a total A2A2 herd, we continue to breed towards that goal. Markus adds onto what we do  and creates something great. The awards Yodelay Yogurt has earned are testaments to his talents. If he has success, then we have a small part in that. It’s a team effort all the way through.”
    Candinas agreed.
    “Bryan is an artisan,” he said. “We then apply our own artisanship at Yodelay to what he produces.”
    Yodelay Yogurt is sold in about 50 stores ranging from large to small in Wisconsin and northern Illinois and comes in eight flavors – rhubarb, peach raspberry, tart cherry, pink grapefruit, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and pineapple.
    The fruit in Yodelay Yogurt is another unique attribute of the product Candinas said. Containing plump, fresh fruit picked at the peak of ripeness, a consumer of Yodelay will find whole blueberries or chunks of cherries and peaches in their yogurt.
    “You don’t see that with other brands,” Candinas said. “If you do, it might not actually taste like a peach. Yodelay contains sweet chunks of … strawberries that taste like strawberries. It has real fruit integrity.”
     Yodelay contains no artificial flavors, preservatives or stabilizers.
    “We don’t add things that don’t belong, nor do we take anything out,” Candinas said. “You’ll find a cocktail of stabilizers like guar gum, gelatin, locust bean gum and agar in other brands – even in a yogurt that says all natural or organic on the container. Do these things sound like they belong in yogurt? Or in any dairy product? Also, the things that occur naturally when making yogurt we leave in, but other brands remove them.”
    Yodelay has a thinner consistency than traditional yogurt, making it great for drinking or consuming by spoon.
    “Rhubarb tends to be our most popular flavor, which is curious because it’s so unique,” Candinas said. “I don’t know of any other brand with rhubarb or pink grapefruit. Of course, not all stores carry all of our flavors. It’s a crowded marketplace, and shelf space is very limited.”
    Yodelay Yogurt won two best of class awards at the World Championship Cheese Contest and swept the top five spots in the flavored low-fat yogurt category, receiving the highest rating out of 75,000 products. This marked the first time in history that a single maker earned all three awards in any yogurt category. Yodelay also took home best of class and a third-place award in the drinkable cultured products class.
    From late 2019 to early 2020, Yodelay Yogurt had a growth spurt as the company added many stores to its client base. But then the coronavirus pandemic brought Yodelay’s success to a screeching halt.
    “COVID-19 created an interesting dynamic,” Candinas said. “During the pandemic, we weren’t able to do store demos to sustain growth in that sector of our business. People also were not going to stores as much and instead did more home delivery. One of our customers with home delivery did really well.”
    The award-winning yogurt has experienced an up and down rollercoaster wave of product sales.
    “Getting product on the shelf is the first step but that doesn’t mean someone will buy it,” Candinas said. “You need to market it. Letting people try our product is the best approach. Demos are huge for us, but that wasn’t an option last year. Branded product sales are looking different than a year and a half ago, but we’re still on an upward curve.”
    The pandemic dampened their momentum, but Candinas and Voegeli are feeling optimistic about the future.
    “It takes time to make it all happen,” Candinas said. “The product is still really young, but we’ve come a long way since 2017. Our relationships with stores are still there, and we added a new flavor recently – pink grapefruit. That was exciting. We continue to grow even though we took a weird chicane from the track we were on.”  
    Voegeli is happy to be a part of something special like Yodelay Yogurt as he and Candinas share a piece of Switzerland with their fellow Americans.
    “The progress we’ve made together is significant, and we’re excited to see where this goes,” Voegeli said. “We’ve found our niche as a farm.”


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