Meridian, TX—Farmstead cheese production under Caprino Royale, Inc. was halted last year after the compnay sold its goat herd with plans for a new business strategy, operational facility and a new name – Relevation Artisan Cheese.
Owners Eric and Karen Tippit began making cheese as Caprino Royale at their small farm in Waco, TX, about 45 miles from Meridian, home of the new plant.
We were given some land and we did our research – it took a couple of years, Eric Tippit said.
“We started looking at farmstead cheese companies and the first one we went to was going out of business,” Tippit said.
However, “each one we visited was more successful than the last, and we finally ended up at one that was making a living with a good business model,” he said.
We started with nothing, and then made the leap to establish a 1,200 square-foot, state-inspected facility, Tippit said.
With a herd of roughly 50 Nubian goats, Caprino Royale kicked off production with fresh cheeses sold at the nearby Dallas farmers’ market – the largest farmers’ market in Texas.
I started giving chefs our cheese to play with, and then they started showing up at our table asking for more, Tippit said. That was the beginning of the company’s high-end restaurant trade.
“For a small company like ours – just two people – it proved to be too much,” he said. “We were milking twice a day, 365 days. We tried to find help – we tried interns, employees, everything.”
“We put ads out all over the country and we couldn’t find anyone. People either wanted to make cheese or they wanted to work with animals, but they didn’t want to do both,” Tippit said.
“You have to like cheese. You’d be surprised how many cheese makers I’ve run into that don’t really like cheese. I don’t get that.”
Around mid-2013, Caprino Royale shifted production to the hard aged cheese market, purchasing new equipment and creating additional aging space.
“Once we had a supply, we ended up selling to specialty food distributors,” Tippit said.
Once volume ramped up, the company started purchasing cow’s milk – going through several dairies until the Tippits found one they really liked – and began experimenting with mixed milk cheese varieties.
Shortly after, we realized that while goat milk production drops, cow’s production stays pretty consistent, so we jumped into making exclusively cow’s milk cheeses.
The new cheeses were extremely well-recieved, which cemented the decision to sell the goat herd.
Through blind luck, Tippit was able to find suitable facility in Meridian, just a 15 minute drive from the company’s dairy of choice.
“We crunched the number and called our distributors, who said they were sad to see the goat cheese go, but were still on board,” Tippit said.
The farm, herd and dairy equipment were liquidated, and the money was used to purchase the new 2,200-square foot plant. Rennovation began in late November 2016 and is slated for completion by early March.
“We doubled production space and increased aging space, with room to grow,” Tippit said. “We’re also in the process of adding a
small retail venue.”
Most of our business is wholesale, but we’re located along a tourist route, Tippit said. They’ll drive right past our front door.
Output will remain small, topping out at roughly 125 pounds of cheese weekly. One variety will be Camembert per a distributor’s request, along with Blue cheese and three aged International Styles.
One benefit of moving from goat to cow’s milk is less consumer education, according to Tippit.
It was all about educating, he said. People would look at you and say “Ewww...goat cheese,” and I’d give them a sample. Nine times out of 10, they’d buy some. That’s how we built our customer base.
Restaurants and chefs didn’t need convicing, though. If you made a good product, they were interested, he continued.
“For the most part, price didn’t scare them away. Now with cow’s milk, the price point is a lot lower,” he said. “We had to adjust our volume to make up the difference in price margins, but it’s not as hard now as it once was.”
Advice To Farmstead Companies
Tippit’s running joke is that he will consult for $70 per hour at two hours minimum, which will be plenty of time to talk someone out of starting a farmstead cheese operation.
It’s a hard life, but I’m glad I did it, he said. I learned about milk in a way I would’ve missed out on if I was simply making cheese, he said. To make excellent cheese, you need to know the whole picture.
“Honestly, the first thing I would tell people is not to borrow money. This lifestyle is going to pay back to you – and the bank – that level of investment,” Tippit said.
Right now, there’s so many people who stop by and want to start a cheese business, we’re thinking of putting a tip jar by the gate, Tippit joked.
“When you add the term ‘farmstead’ to anything, it means more work. In the whole world of farming, dairying in the toughest, in my opinion,” he said. “It never slows down and it never shuts off. At one point, I didn’t take a day off for seven years straight.”
“Oh, and be aware that you probably won’t get rich,” he said.
For more information, contact www.revelationcheese.com.