January 26, 2023 at 3:18 p.m.
Tucked into the quiet town of Paoli, about 15 miles southwest of Madison, Seven Acre Dairy Company is a new one-of-a-kind dairy destination. Here, guests are treated to a delicious escape that puts dairy on a pedestal. Seven Acre Dairy Company is devoted to providing exceptional dining and lodging within the walls of what once was a cheese factory and the building to which generations of Sarbackers shipped their milk. Now, the Sarbackers are helping feed Seven Acre Dairy Company’s customers by supplying both milk and meat to their neighbor across the field.
“Our milk came here until 1980 when it was Pabst Farms, and now our milk is coming here once again to make ice cream,” Tom said. “It’s nice to see it come full circle. This is pretty cool.”
The Sarbackers own and operate Fischerdale Farm near Paoli where they milk 65 cows and farm 180 acres with their son, Joe, and his wife, Sarah. Specializing in registered Holstein genetics, the Sarbackers’ barn is home to 24 Excellent cows and a herd BAA of 110.4. High type and high production are what the family strives for.
“Our herd is mostly homebred, and we’ve taken pride in that,” Joe said.
The farm, which is visible from Seven Acre Dairy Company, was purchased by Tom’s father in 1983. Joe’s and Sarah’s daughters – Payton, Braelyn and Reagan – represent the fifth generation at Fischerdale. Sarah also holds a full-time job off the farm as a wedding planner for the business she started with a friend in 2010.
Milk from Fischerdale Farm is the key ingredient in Seven Acre Dairy Company’s soft serve ice cream served in the Dairy Café. Three milkings’ worth, or 6,300 pounds, of milk per week are sent to Seven Acre Dairy Company. Andy Ziegler, one of the partners in the project, perfected the ice cream recipe at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“We knew we wanted to make ice cream from the beginning, but we weren’t sure how,” Ziegler said. “It was important to get local milk and take that milk from the cow and put it into ice cream without much adulteration.”
Soft serve ice cream proved to be the perfect choice.
“Everyone has memories of eating soft serve ice cream as a kid, and ours is premium soft serve unlike anything else,” Ziegler said. “The milk goes straight into the ice cream with no subtractions or additions of fats, but we do add milk solids.”
Ziegler said ice cream is one of the cornerstones of the business, which will lead to the development of more products. For example, Ziegler has started doing research on novelty treats.
“We’re so excited to be able to see the farm where our milk and meat comes from and share that with our customers,” Ziegler said.
The Sarbacker family provides beef to Seven Acre Dairy Company that comes from older, mature dairy cows. The meat is referred to as pasture prime.
“It’s so tender you don’t need a knife,” Tom said.
“We’ve had a lot of rave reviews about the food,” he said. “The meat is fresh; it’s never frozen.
We’re doing veal too. We thought the milk was great, but it led into doing beef and veal options as well.”
Seven Acre Dairy Company also gets beef from another local dairy farm and other types of livestock meat from farms in the area.
“We’re getting paid a premium for our milk and meat, and that helps us financially,” Tom said. “I don’t know if all of our milk will ever go to Seven Acre, but it’s a possibility. As more time goes on, I think the ceiling is very high in what they’ll be getting from us. We’re not owners, but we’re feeling pretty involved.”
Nic Mink and Danika Laine are the founders and visionaries of Seven Acre Dairy Company, which they own along with several other investors.
“Nic and Danika are very excited about the building’s story and our farm, and it snowballed from there,” Sarah said. “It’s rare to find someone who is both business savvy and excited about the dairy industry. That’s the magic in all of this.”
Built in 1888, the 21,000-square-foot building that houses Seven Acre Dairy Company is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Award-winning Swiss cheese and sweet cream butter were made there until the factory closed its doors in 1980. In 2021, a group of local entrepreneurs purchased the factory to preserve a special piece of Wisconsin’s history located steps from the Sugar River.
Keeping the factory’s historic architecture alive, modern amenities are coupled with gentle reminders of yesterday at every turn. The concrete floors once traversed on while making butter and cheese more than a century ago are the same floors Seven Acre Dairy Company’s customers stroll upon today. In the restaurant, outlines of where the Swiss cheese tanks once stood serve as visible indicators of the building’s factory days.
“They didn’t take everything away from this place,” Tom said. “I never thought it would be like this. They’re keeping a lot of the old characteristics.”
“So much in here is original; you know you’re in an old creamery,” she said. “It’s beyond our expectations.”
The building’s character and rustic charm lure locals and out-of-towners to immerse in a dairy experience like no other. The Dairy Café – a casual spot for breakfast or lunch – was the first portion to open in mid-December 2022. The hotel, known as The Inn, followed close behind, welcoming its first guests Dec. 27. In February, Seven Acre Dairy Company’s upscale restaurant and bar – The Kitchen – will also open for business serving farm-fresh entrees. Much of the food is locally sourced.
The Dairy Café serves specialty sandwiches, soup, coffee, pastries and soft-serve ice cream. The café is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and also carries merchandise, including apparel, dry goods and artwork.
The boutique hotel features eight rooms, each noted by a special name honoring the past – such as the Milk Haulers Suite, Creamery Room, Swiss Room and Pabst Room. Black and white canvas prints of the Sarbacker farm and family line one wall of the hotel lobby, and a chandelier made out of glass milk bottles hangs above the front desk. To the Sarbackers’ delight, guests arrive to their room to find a pitcher of milk and two cookies to enjoy.
“It’s awesome how much they put dairy on the forefront here,” Sarah said. “Dairy is a top priority at Seven Acre.”
Artisan butter is made at the on-site micro-dairy, making Seven Acre Dairy Company one of the few sites in Wisconsin to produce dairy products in three separate centuries. Viewing windows allow visitors to watch the process. Blocks of butter are available for purchase in the Dairy Café, and the butter will also be used in the restaurant.
The Sarbacker family’s roots run deep in Paoli. Lifetime residents of the area, Tom’s connection to the town’s cheese factory began when he was a boy. Growing up on a farm on the opposite side of Seven Acre Dairy Company from where he currently farms, Tom remembers riding his bike to the factory to buy butter. He used to mow the lawn at the cheese factory and some of his siblings worked there.
“This is super exciting for the farm and its legacy,” Sarah said. “Seven Acre Dairy Company is capturing the nostalgia of Fischerdale Farm combined with the nostalgia of ice cream and creating an experience everyone can enjoy. The two businesses are lifting each other up.”
A trail will soon connect Seven Acre Dairy Company to Fischerdale Farm. The Sarbackers plan to give tours to anyone interested in learning more about the farm. Sharing their dairy is nothing new to the family as Vicki has been doing tours for second graders for 35 years.
“Many people don’t know where their food comes from; they don’t know about agriculture,” Tom said. “Everyone at Seven Acre is fully on board with building relationships with the consumer and explaining and showing them where food originates. This is an opportunity to educate.”
By turning something old into something new and full of promise, Seven Acre Dairy Company is giving a boost to the local economy and expanding the reach of the dairy industry.
“When I think about our small family farm that my grandpa started, it’s hard to believe anything could make you feel as proud as that, but Seven Acre does,” Joe said. “This is where I’ve lived all my life. We love Paoli and giving back to the community that has given so much to us. We’re lucky to have this opportunity.”
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