Boyceville, WI—Wisconsin welcomed its newest farmstead goat dairy and micro-creamery here last month, created not only to make cheese but to help other interns learn the craft.
Owners Joel and Meg Wittenmyer started the venture as regular homesteaders – a steadily growing movement over the past decade.
“Part of that plan was to provide our own dairy products for ourselves, and I had wanted goats for years,” Meg Wittenmyer said.
The couple started in 2012 with two goats – one standard Nubian/Alpine cross-breed and one registered Mini-Nubian doeling.
“Well, I immediately fell in love with the goats first. They are so social and promiscuous,” she said.
A friend had given me a cheesemaking book with recipes and I began experimenting with the milk we had left over and discovered another passion: cheesemaking, Wittenmyer said.
“At that point, I decided to get my cheese maker’s license and that’s when I discovered that I’d moved into the only state in the country that requires a license,” she said.
“I was sort of bummed at first, because it meant I couldn’t just run out and open a creamery, but as I took the courses and found places for my internship, I realized just how valuable the requirements would be for me,” she continued.
After earning her cheesemaking license in spring 2015, the couple began planning the creamery. They ran a Barnraiser campaign that fall – a kickstarter-type program for farm and food businesses – and were successful in raising the funds needed to install a wastewater tank underground and an electric box specifically for the creamery before the ground froze for winter.
In March, the Wittenmeyers began the renovation of an existing building to convert it into the creamery. It was
completed in May, and Bifröst Farms completed its licensed dairy plant certification last month.
Small & Sustainable
We will always be a micro-creamery-sized operation, Wittenmyer stressed.
“I milk the goats, keep the barn and make the cheese all by myself with only the help of my husband for building and maintenance, so it has to stay small,” she said. “This whole dream would not be possible without Joel.”
The product lineup includes fresh Chevre in Simply Salted, Citrus Salted, Garlic & Dill, Smoked Black Pepper and Tarragon & Green Olive flavors; Salzkäse – a farmstead version of a semi-soft Feta-style cheese; and yogurt cheese in both savory and sweet flavors such as Tzatziki, Lemony Sumac, Orange & Fig, and Matcha green tea.
Bifröst Farms plans to cap its operation at 20 milking does and will produce between 70 and 100 pounds of cheese per week. Currently, the Menomonie Market Food Co-op carries its products, and the Wittenmyers sell at the Menomonie Farmers’ Market. They also have tentative commitments from Lucette Brewing Company of Menomonie to use its Feta on pizzas this fall, and Gyst Fermentation Bar in Minneapolis wants to add Chevre to its menu in September.
Just Local Foods in Eau Claire is also a retailer who will be carrying our Chevre and Feta, she said.
“Fresh cheeses like these were the way to go initially, but within a year, we hope to add an aging space and introduce our own bloomy rind Valancay type cheese,” Wittenmyer said.
Bifröst Farms has no additional employees, and plans to continue as a two-person operation.
“However, one of the important aspects of our little creamery is to offer it as a place for other aspiring cheese makers to come for their internship hours – especially if they are looking to open their own micro-sized dairy and creamery,” Wittenmyer said. “I believe this is a much needed opportunity in Wisconsin.”
As for hurdles, first and foremost I had to do tons of research and reaching out to small farmstead creameries out of state for advice and suggestions for building my little place, she said.
There are so few micro-creameries in Wisconsin and officials from the WDATCP don’t know a lot about small operations either, Wittenmyer said.
“They didn’t know quite what to do with my operation come inspection time,” she said.
Also, it was very difficult finding a licensed cheese maker within a reasonable driving distance to do my internship under, she said.
Still, I would encourage anyone with the passion and skill to make goat’s cheese to pursue it. It’s a commodity that is growing in the food market and many people are more than happy to support local farmers, Wittenmyer said. It’s a way to keep the small farm alive.
Over the next few years, I hope to be able to offer a place for internships and plan to add in an ag aspect, including weekends on the farm where people can learn about cheesemaking.
“And I’m really excited about being able to age cheeses soon and include a bloomy rind and some semi-firm aged cheeses to our product list,” Wittenmyer continued.
For more information, visit www.bifrostfarms.com or call (715) 643-2208.