Goat farmers struggle to cash in on cheese

goatcheese.JPGGoat cheese for sale at the Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op. (MPR Photo/Molly Bloom)

A growing market for goat cheese presents an opportunity for central Minnesota’s goat producers, but they are unable to help meet demand now that a Canadian company has stopped processing their milk.

Woolwich Dairy Inc., a Canada-based company that makes goat cheese, told 20 central Minnesota dairy goat producers last month that the company would no longer pick up their milk to process.

That’s a serious issue for the state’s goat dairy farmers, many of whom are not close to processing facilities, said Georgia Raymond, the cheese buyer for one of the Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-ops. In Minnesota, processors are few and far between. That’s why most of the local goat cheese the co-ops carry is produced in Wisconsin.

One of these farmers who depended on Woolwich is Missy Isder who has a small dairy farm just north of Little Falls. Since Woolwich ceased its pick-ups, Isder has been feeding some of the milk produced by her 140 milking herd to calves and dumping the rest.

Isder would be interested in processing the milk herself but has not seriously looked into it because it’s prohibitively expensive to install the equipment and obtain inspections. A pasteurizer alone can cost over $12,000.

Next week, Isder will begin paying Eichten’s, the Center City, Minn. cheese producer, to process some of her milk (though she’ll still have a good deal left over). She and four other goat dairy farmers have come together to split the $1,200 that Eichten’s will charge them to process 5,000 pounds of milk. Eichten’s will process the milk into cheese and then she and the other farmers will be responsible for selling it.

Anna Severson, a goat farmer in Swanville, Minn. said part of the problem is that while there is plenty of support for cow dairy farmers looking to start similar projects, this help does not exist for goat dairy farmers.

Swenson used to be a goat dairy farmer but has since moved on to breeding goats since she had no outlet for the milk she was producing. What really bothers her is that she’s been watching demand for goat cheese rise while she isn’t able to pursue the market.

“I go to the store and see imported goat cheese selling for $6,” Severson said.

Whether the cause is the Food Network, Top Chef and increased foodie-ism or lactose intolerance (goat milk may be easier to digest) more people are interested in buying goat cheese.

Georgia Raymond, the cheese buyer for one of the Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-ops, said demand has just been going up since she started working there in 1994. Three years ago they had four varieties of goat cheese and now they have 25.

Although the lack of processing facilities remains an obstacle, she would love to see more Minnesota goat cheeses on the market.

“I’m always looking for good goat cheeses to sell,” Raymond said. “Send them my way.”

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