Steve Stettler (left) and an employee pump curd on the table and level cheese Aug. 25 at Decatur Dairy near Brodhead, Wisconsin. The dairy takes in about 550,000 pounds of milk per day which is made into cheese that is sold nationwide.
PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Steve Stettler (left) and an employee pump curd on the table and level cheese Aug. 25 at Decatur Dairy near Brodhead, Wisconsin. The dairy takes in about 550,000 pounds of milk per day which is made into cheese that is sold nationwide. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

BRODHEAD, Wis. – Among the rolling hills of Green County, growth at Decatur Dairy has led to an expansion that will nearly double the cheese factory’s physical footprint. A milk processing plant owned partly by the dairy farmers who ship their milk to it, Decatur Dairy is building not only for today but also for all of the tomorrows that lie ahead.  



“The expansion will create huge efficiencies in our business,” said Steve Stettler, owner and operator of Decatur Dairy. “It will give us the opportunity to invest in technology and change some of the ways we do things. We’re trying to serve all the needs of our patrons. They have been with us for a long time, and they understand production. They don’t want to roll back.”
The $6.2 million expansion will add 24,000-square-feet of space to the facility which presently occupies a little more than 30,000-square-feet near Brodhead. The dairy broke ground on the expansion April 1 with plans to have it complete by Feb. 1, 2023.
“We’ve been out of room for a long time,” Stettler said. “We’re growing, and our customers are growing. We’re shipping cheese to different warehouses because we don’t have the space. We have to bring everything back under one roof.”
The expansion will include dry storage space, cold storage space, a new packaging room, curing room, new loading docks and a shipping office. As a result, the addition will open up space in the existing facility and also offer an area to add more processing capabilities.
Decatur Dairy’s 72 patrons from Rock, Green and Lafayette counties ship about 550,000 pounds of milk per day to the plant. With the expansion, volume could increase to 700,000 pounds per day.
“We are way overproducing for the space we have,” Stettler said. “It is getting harder and harder to meet industry standards with limited room. The expansion is going to help solve that problem by giving us a lot more space.”
Decatur Swiss Cheese Cooperative started with seven farms in 1942. The farmers were looking for a place to send their milk, so they got together and built a cheese factory. Stettler, a third-generation cheesemaker, started working at the factory in 1973. He and his wife, George, bought into the business in 1982 and created Decatur Dairy to manufacture and sell cheese for the co-op. As members of Decatur Swiss Cheese Co-op, the farmers own the building, while Stettler owns the business, equipment and marketing rights.  
“This expansion is going to help future young farmers,” said Decatur Dairy patron, Steve Case. “When I retire, and my son takes over, he will have a place to ship his milk. Great things are happening at Decatur Dairy.”
Case milks 155 cows near Janesville and has been shipping his milk to Decatur Dairy since 2004.
The member farmers and Decatur Dairy formed Decatur Cheese Plant LLC before embarking on the expansion, creating a 50/50 partnership between Decatur Dairy and Decatur Dairy Swiss Cheese Co-op in all property that covers the cheesemaking facility, including the current building. The LLC purchased 5 acres from Decatur Dairy’s neighbor to accommodate the expansion. To help fund the project, Decatur Dairy received grants from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance as well as a small business grant.
“Being a part of Decatur Dairy and Cheese LLC is important to our patrons,” Stettler said. “Our partnership gives them a voice in the business and was a driving factor in the decision to expand.”
Co-op president and Decatur Dairy patron, Steve Carpenter, agreed.
“The main objective of this expansion was to secure a market for our milk,” Carpenter said. “In today’s environment, you’re not guaranteed a market. In doing this expansion and creating an LLC, we have a 20-year commitment with Decatur Dairy to buy and market our milk. This gives us a guarantee.”
Carpenter milks 600 cows at his Red Rock View Farms near Darlington.
“It’s nice being part owners and being part of selling our end product too,” he said. I don’t know of any other arrangement like this in the state.”
Decatur Dairy manufactures all of the milk into cheese which they then sell to customers nationwide. Four cheesemakers are on staff – including two master cheesemakers, Stettler and Matt Henze, and two licensed cheesemakers. When the Stettlers launched Decatur Dairy, the plant was taking in 35,000 to 40,000 pounds of milk per day and making two types of cheese – Muenster and brick.
Stettler developed new cheeses such as Stettler Swiss – a Swiss Lace product – and colby Swiss. He also introduced Decatur Dairy to making havarti, farmer’s, colby, colby jack, smoked cheddar, fontina, Asiago and Gouda cheeses. Furthermore, the dairy is well known for its award-winning cheese curds. Their Muenster curds won best in class at the 2022 World Champion Cheese contest in March, and Decatur cheese curds also took first place at this year’s Wisconsin State Fair.
“We’ve grown over the years which is why we’re building a curing room,” Stettler said.
The dairy makes cheese six days a week with help from 32 employees. Stettler’s daughters, Shaya and Sierra, also work at Decatur Dairy and will be attending cheesemaking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall.
Decatur Dairy sells cheese direct to the consumer as well as at their onsite store. The dairy’s bustling storefront has been open since the late 1970s selling curds, blocks of cheese and fresh-cut slices. Decatur Dairy is also a popular lunch stop, offering made-to-order grilled cheese sandwiches.
“We’re running about as hard as we can run in the cheese plant and are looking to increase production a little with this latest expansion,” Stettler said. “We’re not really looking at adding more patrons however, but our current patrons will be able to ship more milk.”
This is the third expansion for the growing dairy, the first of which occurred in 1999 and the second in 2010.
“The expansion offers security in a milk market,” Stettler said. “It takes time, and our patrons are investing out of their checks for the business. We have a really good core base of farms and a lot of longstanding members who have been here through the last two expansions. We also have many younger farmers in the co-op, and they’re all for this expansion.”
Decatur Dairy’s expansion is mutually beneficial to both farmer and processor, and together, both parties are investing in the future. Having a stake in their milk’s manufacturing and marketing, co-op members are working with the cheese plant to ensure a bright future for Decatur Dairy.
“Decatur Dairy has always been about taking our milk from farm to market,” Stettler said. “We have good partnerships between the dairy farms here and our business, which has contributed to Decatur Dairy’s growth and success. It’s a team effort between all of us – the dairy and the co-op – to make this thing successful.”


Photo cutlines:
Decatur Dairy-1: Master cheesemaker Steve Stettler and his wife, George, stand inside the storefront at Decatur Dairy near Brodhead, Wisconsin. The dairy is undergoing a $6.2 million expansion to be completed by February 2023 that will add 24,000-square-feet of space to the facility.

Decatur Dairy-2: Steve Stettler (left) and an employee pump curd on the table and level cheese Aug. 25 at Decatur Dairy near Brodhead, Wisconsin. The dairy takes in about 550,000 pounds of milk per day which is made into cheese that is sold nationwide.

Decatur Dairy-3: Decatur Dairy located near Brodhead, Wisconsin, has 72 patrons from Rock, Green and Lafayette counties shipping about 550,000 pounds of milk daily to the plant.

Decatur Dairy-4: Decatur Dairy’s onsite store sells all the dairy’s cheeses as well as made-to-order grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.