TRADITIONAL CHEESE FROM AMISH FARM MILK — Pasture Pride Cheese makes a variety of cheeses from milk from Amish family farms, including a number of goat’s milk cheeses sold under the Natural Valley brand.
|MILK THE OLD FASHIONED WAY — The milk for Pasture Pride’s cheeses comes from small Amish herds. The cows are handmilked each day, and the milk is poured into traditional milk cans. The cans are then lowered into cold water tanks where they are chilled until picked up.
By Kate Sander
CASHTON, Wis. — Amish settlements are known for their quiet, traditional way of life — horses and buggies, a handful of cows, handmade wares and family ties.
Yet despite being set apart, today’s Amish families must increasingly interface with non-Amish to sell their products. For an Amish settlement in southwestern Wisconsin, that’s where Pasture Pride Cheese comes in.
To turn their cans of fresh milk into cheese, the Amish farmers in Monroe County have long contracted with the Everhart family.
Third generation cheesemaker Kevin Everhart and his wife Kim operate Pasture Pride Cheese, manufacturing product that is sold under the Pasture Pride brand. The cheese is in turn marketed by Mary Bess Michaletz, who started with the company in 2014.
Since the late 1980s the plant has marketed Muenster, and it later began producing other types of cheeses with the Amish community’s milk. The company still makes Muenster, but its flagship cheese is now Juusto, a cheese based on the Old World, traditional Finnish “Juustolepia” — also known as bread cheese.
Juustolepia, a baked cheese that is typically served warm, was developed more than 200 years ago in Finland. The concept was brought to Wisconsin more than a decade ago when Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR) staff investigated international cheese types and determined that Juustolepia was undersold in the United States, where they thought it would do well. Upon their return, CDR leaders taught interested U.S. cheesemakers how to make the cheese. Kevin Everhart, looking for a way to differentiate Pasture Pride, was among them.
While there are other U.S. companies that make Juustolepia-type cheeses, Pasture Pride’s Juusto is unique in many ways, Michaletz says.
A bit more Americanized than its European counterparts, the baking process gives Pasture Pride Juusto a buttery, tasty crust similar to bread.
“It’s really Old World
new world technology.
We’re using milk
that has stepped
out of a different
Mary Bess Michaletz
PASTURE PRIDE CHEESE
It’s not just the recipe, though, that sets Pasture Pride Juusto apart, according to Michaletz. It’s the milk — and the story — behind the cheese that makes it truly unique.
“It’s really Old World tradition meets new world technology,” Michaletz says. “We’re using milk that has stepped out of a different century.”
The milk for Pasture Pride’s cheeses is from more than 300 Amish herds averaging 12 cows each. The cows are handmilked each day, and the milk is poured into traditional milk cans. The milk cans are then lowered into cold water tanks where they are chilled until picked up by milk trucks and delivered to the plant.
At the plant, the milk is poured into refrigerated tanks, pumped just a short distance, pasteurized and made into cheese. In an increasingly automated world, the traditional grass-based farming methods and minimal pumping preserve a wholesome butterfat structure and lend a silky quality to every cheese Pasture Pride makes, Michaletz says.
Each farm has two sets of cans with their farm number on it, and cans are returned to the farms sanitized for the next round of milking, Michaletz says. She notes the company has worked intensively with the Amish and the state of Wisconsin over the years “to make sure farms meet state and federal standards.” The plant operates an on-site lab and utilizes a third-party lab as well.
“Every can is tested,
the cheese plant
and our conversion
Mary Bess Michaletz
PASTURE PRIDE CHEESE
“Every can is tested, the cheese plant is SQF-certified and our conversion facility is BRC-certified,” she says.
While the story is compelling, marketing Juusto hasn’t been easy, Michaletz says.
“We’ve worked hard to grow the Juusto niche,” she says. “It’s been slow growing, persistence and dedication.”
Educating people about how to warm the cheese with a microwave, grill or skillet has been one hurdle. Another hurdle has been simply teaching people how to pronounce Juusto (“yoo-stoh”).
As the company has further developed the cheese, it has updated its packaging to better convey the Amish origins, use of the cheese and warming instructions.
Michaletz also utilizes aggressive demoing to share the cheese with potential consumers.
“When people hear our story, they also get passionate about it,” she says. “They meet us, and they catch our enthusiasm.”
While the company’s 6-ounce traditional Juusto is its best-selling Juusto flavor, the company also offers flavored varieties of Juusto including Chipotle Peppers, Jalapeño Peppers, Bacon Crumbles and Italiano. By matter of Amish practice, all of the milk is rBGH-free, but Pasture Pride works with Amish farmers to help them become certified rBGH-free. The company also has worked with several farmers to help them become certified organic so the company can sell both rBGH-free and organic cheeses. Organic Juusto is among the organic cheese varieties Pasture Pride offers.
“When people hear
our story, they
also get passionate
They meet us,
and they catch
Mary Bess Michaletz
PASTURE PRIDE CHEESE
Pasture Pride also recently has developed a foodservice package size that is being debuted at several foodservice shows.
In addition, because many Amish farms also milk goats, the company makes several goat’s milk cheeses. Under the Pasture Pride label the company produces Guusto, the goat’s milk version of Juusto.
Currently, Pasture Pride Juusto is doing well in major cities and has recently exploded on the West Coast. East Coast sales also are experiencing good growth, Michaletz says. In addition, Juusto is exported to Canada, the Caribbean and Korea.
Recent growth for the company has come from Juusto being featured on QVC, which discovered the cheese a couple of years ago at the Fancy Food Show, Michaletz says. QVC and Pasture Pride worked together over the next year-and-a-half on pricing and developing a package size.
Ultimately, a 6-pack of Juusto was settled on, featuring Traditional, Bacon and Italian flavors, and the cheese was first featured on QVC in December.
Michaletz says working with QVC has been an “amazing” experience and that kitchen guest host Marie Louise Ludwig did a wonderful job telling the Pasture Pride Juusto story — so much so that they exceeded their goal in their first segment and were featured again this past month.
“They don’t do a lot of cheese. We’re one of a few perishable items they’ve gotten behind,” Michaletz says.
“What they do and how they do it is a mind bender, and our interface with them has been really helpful,” she adds, noting that the experience has helped her learn more about marketing to mass audiences.
Marketing to audiences across the country continues to be Michaletz’s focus. The process of obtaining milk from so many tiny farms and producing the cheeses is filled with intricacies, but it’s a story that an animated Michaletz enjoys telling. Her present goal is to further disseminate the story of how Amish milk is turned into world-class cheeses, many of which have won awards over the past several years including at the American Cheese Society and U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, Michaletz says. Most recently, the company’s Juusto placed second in the Prepared Cheese Foods Class at last week’s U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.
In addition to Juusto, the company sells numerous other cheeses under the Pasture Pride brand, including Cheddar (mild, medium and sharp), Colby, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, Muenster, Provolone and Mozzarella. Certified rBGH-free and organic options are available.
Pasture Pride also makes Oven Baked Cheese. This patented line of baked cheeses differs from Juusto in that it includes a layer of either full-flavored Cheddar, Parmesan or goat’s milk cheese inside a pocket of traditional Juusto to create a taste cascade of flavor.
The company also makes several goat’s milk cheeses sold under the Natural Valley brand. These include Cheddar (mild, medium and sharp), Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, Muenster and Mozzarella. Michaletz says the company has chosen to make “everyday in the pantry” goat’s milk cheeses that are an alternative to cow’s milk cheeses. This includes goat’s milk cheese sticks for quick snacks. The cheese also is available in 8-ounce chunks, 5-pound loaves and 40-pound blocks.
In addition, the company is beginning to produce a mixed milk cheese line under the Natural Valley brand, Michaletz says.
All of the company’s cheeses are available for national distribution, as well as locally. The company operates two facilities in the Cashton area, and one features a store where visitors can sample a variety of cheeses. The company also sells product on its website.