Dairy Marketing Practice | Contributing Columnist


American Cheese Matures:
Baetje Farms

Dan Strongin ASQ CMQ/OE Uncorporate Consultant

June 8, 2018


Another in a series of columns exploring the maturing of the American Cheese pioneers and our industry. My eyes fell upon the following facebook post from Baetje Farms last month: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1663784093671508&id

Veronica and Steve Baetje have been among the premiere producers of farmhouse cheese for a couple of decades now. One of a host of wonderful stories of our industry representing all that is good in American Dream. They are looking to pass the baton to a new generation. They are doing so while still young enough to enjoy the other things life has to offer.

Previous Artisan Cheese Pioneers in similar situations were scooped up by various US and European buyers, as in the case of Vermont Creamery, Laura Chenel and Cypress Grove. Other smaller operations followed the same track as the Baetjers to keep the train rolling into the future: arranging a smooth transition to new owners before they were too on in years, to ensure its continuing success.

In their own words, the Baetjes began in 1998 with a dream to make great goats milk cheese. And they did! More than 70 national and international awards are the proof.

Steve and Veronica Baetje, the owners of Baetje Farms, are looking for a successor to carry Baetje Farms onward into an ever more glorious future. As was done a couple of decades ago with Uplands Cheese and Hubbardston Blue, who was one of the very first pioneers in the new wave of American Artisanal Cheese. It has proven to be a very successful arrangement. Both Uplands and Westfield Farm, the producers of Capri and Hubbardston Blue, have lovingly carried their cheeses forward through dedication and hard work.

Until the right opportunity comes along, it is business as usual, and Veronica and Steve will continue making their fabulous cheeses for sale, made with their delicious farmstead milk: There is no cause for panic! And, one lucky person or persons will get the brass ring: a turnkey, internationally acclaimed farmhouse cheese operation.

As discussed in an earlier column, these transitions will occur more and more as the pioneers of one generation pass the baton. It is a common occurrence in other lifestyle businesses and a sign of the maturing of our industry. The continued success of the industry as a whole will depend on finding new sources of energy, dreams and discipline to carry it forward.

I’m hoping for an influx of American buyers. Nothing against the Europeans, but, to remain American Artisanal Cheese, we need more of the next generation of Americans rolling up their sleeves and separating curds from whey.

Some lucky guy or gal will walk into a tremendous opportunity forged from the Baetje’s blood sweat and tears. But that is progress, for eventually, everything comes to an end. We all sacrifice for the next generation to have it better than we did.

Steve and Veronica are doing this the right way, just like they make their wonderful cheeses the right way, with integrity. When asked as to why Steve and Veronica would like to extend this opportunity, the couple replied, “We began with a doe and her kid in 1998, and we have seen our company go from infancy to an international award winner and recognized brand. We have enjoyed the challenge to do that and the business and its success immensely. We simply want to set our horizons on other adventures, other dreams, while we are still young enough to do them.”

Rather than wait for the inevitable, they talked with friends and mentors, researched the legalities, and moved strategically in a way to best protect their beloved farm and its cheeses, and I for one will miss them and their true grit, but look forward to the new ownership with confidence that whomever they choose will be the right choice, and the American Artisan Cheese Industry will move from the pioneering of one generation into new horizons.

As future people look back at this tradition of incredibly delicious cheeses, they may be unaware of the decisions made by plucky pioneers who dedicated their lives to the fermentation of milk in small quantities to create foods of quality.

Traditions need pioneers, but they need standard bearers in the next generation to pick up the standard and run with it. Much of the difficult work of trial and error in the past, the promise for American Artisan Cheese is there, and if we are to turn from Renaissance to Grand Tradition, the next decade will be essential to our success.

There are many different cheeses in this patrimony we are creating, and I expect there will be many different ways in which our pioneers find to pass the baton. It is the way of things if they are to survive. It is time to roll down the sleeves and plan.

For the cost of an apartment in New York or San Francisco, some special someone could be the owner of what will be an historic farm.

For more information: https://buyafarm.com/property/ste-genevieve-county-mo-turnkey-goat-milk-and-cheese-dairy-and-creamery-business.

Dan Strongin is a former president of the American Cheese Society, chef and business coach for small to medium value added businesses. Dan can be reached via email at dan@danstrongin.com




The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Reporter.



Dan Strongin

Dan Strongin is a former president of the American Cheese Society, chef and business coach for small to medium value added businesses, and the owner of the sites learn.managenaturally.com, and the Facebook group Enjoy Cheese. His online course: “Cheese: How to Buy, Store, Taste, Pair, Talk About and Serve”, is available at enjoycheese.net. Dan can be reached via email at dan@danstrongin.com.

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