BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – Out of sight doesn’t necessarily have to mean out of mind.
Ralph and Colleen Krogmeier of Donnellson have taken their first generation dairy farm and spun off a small, quaint retail outlet for their newest product – cheese.
But the farmstead is literally and figuratively a Hinterland. The term is a European term used to describe land that is off from what is typically visible – usually off from coastal areas.
The Krogmeiers operate a fully functional dairy farm on about 400 acres approximately four miles west of Wilson Lake on fertile farmland nestled quietly between Fort Madison and Donnellson.
In 2017 the family framed up a building that would house a cheese production center and a retail outlet.
Ralph Krogmeier said the transition came about when milk prices started to sag. And instead of getting out of the dairy business, the family expanded and built a small, fully pasteurized farmstead cheese production facility as part of the group’s new venture, Hinterland Dairy.
Fresh cheese curds are produced two or three times a week in the facility and then sold locally on site or at Hy-Vee in Fort Madison, Harvestville Farms, Appleberry Orchard, Sonny’s in West Point, and at farmers’ markets in Montrose and Fort Madison.
The operation is called a farmstead because the cheese has to be made with milk produced on the farm by cows owned by the farmer.
The Krogmeiers now have two farms where the cows on the original farm, about 110, produce milk that is sold to Prairie Farms. The cheese production facility has about 40 cows of its own that produce milk that is made into cheese.
“These are actually two separate Grade A milking facilities,” Krogmeier said. “So far we’re selling all the cheese curds we can make. But we’d rather go slow and get it right, than knock ourselves to death.”
He said they started July 9 with the first batch of cheese. The building was framed up in 2017 and became fully functional in 2019.
The farm currently has six part-time employees and three full timers which include Ralph, Colleen, and their youngest daughter, Shannon.
The Krogmeiers purchased the property in 1985.
“The building we milk in actually was an old airplane hanger owned by Leonard Wilson, who also developed Wilson Lake. This was his farm and he had an airstrip that went cattywampus to where we now milk cows,” he said.
“We’ve added some hoop structures where we keep most of the cows. At night we let them out on pasture weather permitting so they get to go outside.”
On Sunday morning, the Krogmeiers had just hosted one of the agri-tours from the American Cruise Lines on Sunday morning.
“We tried to keep it presentable, but it is what it is. You get a lot of animals around and you’re going to have smell and flies,” Krogmeier said.
“But the tour group was a great group. We had one gentleman who said he liked that smell because it reminded him of when he was growing up.”
Krogmeier said the dairy farm business is in transition and with last year’s prices for milk dropping, about 10% of the dairy farmers in the state quit.
In 2009 it hit 12 dollars per hundred weight, which is like 12 cents a pound. He said current prices are in the 17 to 18 cent range and last year was under 14.
“It was tough. We were fortunate to get the bills paid but we didn’t make a dime,” he said.
“Part of the reason we built the cheese plant was we had enough income to keep everyone employed and happy, but we needed something else to add value to the milk. We’re hoping the return on the resources, meaning labor, capital, management – is better this way than just milking more cows,” he said.
Krogmeier said the family wants the market to be local with deliveries a couple times a week to keep the product fresh, while keeping the company close to its base.
Future plans include an aged cheddar curd and possibly a product called quark, which is originally a European unripened cheese that Colleen says is close to a cross between cream cheese and Greek yogurt.
“You can substitute for anything that would take cream cheese. You can use it as potato topping, mix fruit with it, cheesecake, lasagna. Very versatile, high protein, high probiotics..a really healthy, fresh product,” she said.
Colleen said she’s hoping to have the retail market, located at 2149 Franklin Road, open through the end of the year and will be offering holiday baskets and have possibly some online ordering available when the temperatures cool to allow better shipping.
The company’s website is located at www.hinterlanddairy.com/. The outlet is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m. They will probably close the on-site retail outlet January-March.
“Our cheese curds might be a bit pricier, but they are very good and we hope they’re gone within a week – either in the fridge or ate up in two days and gone,” Ralph Krogmeier said.
“If we can do a good job of making a good product and hopefully get it sold – for the present, we’re pretty happy,” Ralph said.