Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sassy Cow Success

Sassy Cow Creamery, the little creamery that could, celebrates its five-year anniversary this month of producing on-farm bottled milk and old-fashioned ice cream for a growing consumer base demanding  not only to know where their food comes from, but also the first name of their farmer.

In this case, those first names are James and Robert, third generation dairy farmers who own two dairy farms, and in 2008, built a farmstead creamery in the middle. The Baerwolf brothers, along with their wives (both named Jenny), their growing number of children, and the amazing Sassy Cow sales/marketing guru Kara Kasten-Olson, a former farm girl herself, are a team that freely admits they had no idea what they were doing when they started.

Until Kasten-Olson and the Baerwolfs came knocking on the doors of Wisconsin grocery stores five years ago with gallons and half gallons of both organic and traditional milk, only the big boys like Dean and Golden Guernsey had a presence in the retail milk cooler. Kasten-Olson and the Baerwolfs worked beyond overtime the first couple of years to fight a milk mafia uninterested in a local farmer just to get their product placed alongside the conventional commodity jugs of milk.

Metcalfe's Market at Hilldale Shopping Center was the first grocery store in Madison to carry Sassy Cow products. In an interview with today's Wisconsin State Journal, Store Director Jim Meier says Sassy Cow organic milk is now tied with Organic Valley for the top-selling organic milk at Metcalfe's, and Sassy's traditional milk is second only behind Metcalfe's private label.

"We see customers put other products down and pick this one up because it's right down the road. People are willing to spend a bit extra to support the local economy," Meier said.

Today, Sassy Cow milk is not only alongside the "big boys" of fluid milk in the dairy aisle, it often takes center stage. With their collectible "cow cards" - Darlene's been on my fridge for years, after my daughter selected the gallon because she thought the cow's personality description sounded like her mom - the Baerwolfs do an exceptional job of not only telling their farm story, but connecting the consumer to their farm.

Five years ago, when Sassy Cow Creamery celebrated its grand opening, it did so with lots of formal speeches from a variety of state and local officials, including Alice in Dairyland. The above photo was taken that day in front of a crowd of about 100 people. The same people in that photo are the same people running Sassy Cow Creamery today. You can meet them this Saturday at an Anniversary Open House from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., complete with tours, games, product samples and wagon rides.

Sassy Cow Creamery is located at W4192 Bristol Rd., Columbus, Wis. From Hwy 151, take the Bristol Rd. (Hwy N) Exit. Head North on Hwy N and travel seven miles. Look for the big red barn on your left, and be sure to say hello to Robert, James, the Jennys, Kara and the crew. Congratulate them for a job well done.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Thuli Family Creamery

One of the brother-owners of Darlington Dairy Supply, a company well known for providing the Wisconsin dairy industry with innovative, stainless steel processing equipment, is going into the dairy processing industry himself.

Ted Thuli and his wife, Angie, are about ready to open the doors of Thuli Family Creamery on the site of the old Ann Street garage in downtown Darlington. The creamery on wheels - one of Darlington Dairy Supply's claims to fame - has been customized to use solar power and craft an array of innovative dairy products, including:

1. Swiss Style Yogurt -- milk will be non-homogenized with 2 percent and whole milk versions. Smooth and naturally sweet.

2. Cream-line milk -- in white plastic 1/2 gallons.

3. Gelato -- the real deal, using pasteruized egg yolks instead of chemical stabilizers for smooth and thick consistency.

4. Drinkable Yogurt -- with three ingredients: milk, fruit and stevia.

While Ted designed the equipment and developed the recipes, Angie will be the primary operator and day-to-day manager of Thuli Family Creamery. After 28 years in the banking industry, she's "retiring" to work at the bank two days a week and will spend another two or three days a week crafting dairy products to sell in the creamery's on-site small retail store. Sons Blake, 27 and Kyle, 25, are also involved, helping their parents build the creamery and get it up and running.

"Of course what I'd really like to do is make Swiss cheese," Ted says with a grin. Both his grandfather and father were Swiss cheesemakers, and Ted is a Wisconsin licensed cheesemaker himself. "But this is the way to go right now. We're going to fill a product niche and see what we can do."

Already, the family's dairy logo is drawing second looks and smiles. The whimsical cow wearing a bell with a Swiss flag represents the family's heritage. Angie says they'll have a future contest to name her.

Of course with Ted Thuli - featured in 2010 on the hit History Channel show, American Pickers, nothing is ever done in a routine manner. Visitors will notice a giant shark head greeting them as they approach the creamery - the same shark head that was used at the 1974 premiere party of the movie "Jaws". Its missing front tooth will be filled with foam cheese. The creamery boasts an attractive wooden viewing deck for visitors, and the Thulis imagine school children and groups will visit often.

The family creamery marks a dream come true for Ted, who has traveled the world working at Darlington Dairy Supply with his mother and two brothers. The company was founded by his father in 1958, and since then, Ted has built cheese plants in China, Ecuador, Caribbean Islands, Mexico and all over the United States.

"It's pretty neat to do this in my own hometown," Ted says. "I think it will be good for downtown Darlington, and it will be good for us. Win-win." Congrats to the Thulis!