October 27, 2022 at 7:17 p.m.
From when the creamery first began crafting cheese curds, cheddar and brie in 2013 to now being available nationwide, Redhead Creamery’s products have won the way into consumers’ taste buds.
The farm and creamery are co-owned by Alise and Lucas Sjostrom and Alise’s parents, Jerry and Linda Jennissen. The majority of the creamery’s cheese is sold through a distributor to stores such as Lunds & Byerlys, Jerry’s Foods and Kowalski’s Markets. Redhead Creamery’s cheese is also shipped to stores nationwide.
Taking things a step further, Redhead Creamery is in the process of creating an on-site distillery in order to use the whey that is a byproduct of cheese making.
“We will be getting a filter machine that will allow us to separate the lactose from the protein that’s left in the whey,” Alise Sjostrom said. “Then, we will ferment that lactose.”
The distillery will create and market what Sjostrom calls a clear, whey-based spirit.
With a distillery in the works and Redhead Creamery growing, Sjostrom values taking time to reflect.
“It’s weird to have people driving out to the middle of nowhere to come and see the cows and buy our cheese,” she said. “I get to go to stores where I dreamed of seeing my products, and there they are. I need to stop and think about it a second, and I don’t do that enough because we are trying to get the next thing going.”
At Jer-Lindy Farms, 190 cows are milked in a double-8 herringbone parlor. The herd is comprised of registered Holsteins and Brown Swiss. Redhead Creamery uses about 12% of the farm’s milk in the production of artisan cheeses.
“I always knew, if I ever had my own family, I wanted them to grow up the way I did,” Sjostrom said. “But, I didn’t really want to milk cows, so I had to figure out what I was going to do instead.”
Three full-time and four part-time employees help with making cheese, running the on-farm store and working events. The creamery also offers delivery service, which became necessary during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There was a point where we had zero wholesale sales because restaurants closed and everything closed,” Sjostrom said. “Out of necessity, we needed to move cheese. We started delivering door to door.”
Redhead Creamery is open to the public Friday and Saturday afternoons. The shop offers pan-fried cheese curds, paninis and cheese platters as well as beer, wine and cider. During store hours, the creamery offers farm tours. On the third Saturday of June, the creamery holds its biggest event called Curd Fest.
“It’s a huge celebration of agriculture and cheese curds,” Sjostrom said. “We have live music, and we bring in other food makers and vendors to sample and sell their products as well. We also have food trucks.”
Redhead Creamery aims to create the best cheese possible through a willingness to experiment and learn, always starting with quality ingredients.
“At the very basic for making cheese, you need milk, cultures, rennet and salt,” Sjostrom said. “You have to start with good quality milk. If you start with crappy milk, you will have crappy cheese.”
Many variables are involved in creating cheese texture and flavor.
“It’s not just one thing that makes the cheese what it is,” Sjostrom said. “During cheddaring, we might manipulate the flavor by finishing it off differently, for instance cave aging it in a different humidity and temperature, and end up with a completely different cheese than if we vacuum sealed it and put it in a cooler.”
Redhead Creamery uses both techniques and many others.
For instance, they wash wheels of cheese to make flavors such as the Tipsy Tilsiter, washed with cider from Milk and Honey Ciders. There is also the St. Anthony, which is selling well seven years after the first was made.
“It was our first award-winning cheese,” Sjostrom said. “We wash that one with whiskey from Panther Distillery to create a fun rind.”
Since then, other varieties of Redhead Creamery cheese have won awards at the Minnesota State Fair and in other contests.
Sjostrom said being asked to pick her favorite Redhead Creamery cheese is like being asked to pick her favorite child, but she admitted her favorite is the North Fork Munster.
“I wanted a soft, stinky, alcohol-washed cheese, and that’s what this is,” Sjostrom said. “It’s our most challenging and frustrating cheese, but when it works, it’s my favorite.”
After graduating from the University of Minnesota and moving to Vermont because of her husband’s job, Sjostrom worked in the retail shop for a cheese company and learned about European-style cheeses and specialty food marketing. The couple visited breweries and cheese companies on weekends.
“It was fun, but we were learning,” Sjostrom said. “We picked the brains of other makers and asked questions. We went to cheese companies at five in the morning to watch them get started.”
When they moved to Wisconsin, Sjostrom worked for Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese but made trips to Vermont to take cheesemaking classes. During these years, she continued to plan for Redhead Creamery.
“From ideation to actually making something took a good 10 years of planning,” Sjostrom said.
Today, the Sjostroms have three children: Lucy, Henry and Conan. And, like Sjostrom had hoped, the Sjostrom children are growing up on the farm.
“Originally, I imagined it would be me and my mom making cheese, and that would be it, which is non-sustainable,” Sjostrom said. “When I was not here, cheese was not made, so I had no life when we first started. Now I have this awesome group of people who are able to help make this happen. As my kids are growing and I want to go do things with them, I can do that.”