It was a cool summer morning in Donnellson when the Krogmeier family entered their newly-built creamery to begin making Hinterland Dairy’s first batch of cheese curds. Ralph, Colleen and their daughter Shannon started milking 40 cows at 5 a.m. on July 8, then pasteurized the milk and handcrafted the curds through the evening.
As they watched the cheese curds form, the trio’s excitement grew. The family decided to continue with the packaging of the curds late into the night and early the next morning. At 2:30 a.m. on July 9, Shannon exhaustedly but excitedly posed for a photo, smiling big and holding a bag of cheese curds, marking their first cheese production and the continuation of a successful family business.
While dairy farms across the country are closing their barn doors as milk prices drop (the U.S. lost nearly 3,000 dairies in 2018), Ralph and Colleen had been considering expanding their dairy to a creamery for decades. It wasn’t until they received a low-interest loan from Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) that this idea became a reality.
“That was a big turning point in deciding if we were going to go ahead with the creamery or not,” Colleen said. “You dream and wonder, ‘How can we make this work?’ Until that point, we’d never had the right combination of time, money and courage.”
The loan was a result of the REC receiving a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, then rolling that money back into the community to assist new businesses. For Hinterland Dairy, the loan funded the construction of their milking parlor and a small store, where they now sell their products every weekend.
Additionally, the dairy received the USDA Value-Added Producer grant, which can be used to fund working capital (employees, packaging or marketing and advertising materials). Hinterland now employs seven part-time workers that help manage the milking of 160 cows, with Ralph, Colleen and Shannon as the three full-time employees.
Though they’re new to the cheese industry, the three Krogmeiers are nothing short of cheese experts. Over the last several years, the trio visited creameries throughout the Midwest, maintained a close relationship with the Center for Dairy Research and took classes through the University of Wisconsin.
“They (the UoW) think they’re the kings of cheese or something,” Colleen joked. “But if they give us Iowans a little more time, we’ll catch up.”
Though the creamery has only been active for a few months, Hinterland currently produces three flavors of cheese curds, blocks and wheels of aged cheese and their newest product, quark, a soft cheese that can be used as a yogurt alternative.
Visitors to their shop, located at 2149 Franklin Rd. in Donnellson, Iowa, can see first-hand the dairy production process and learn more about the family business. Hinterland Dairy is open year-round on Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m and Sunday 12 to 4 p.m.
Photos courtesy Hinterland Dairy Facebook page.