Edgewood Creamery unveils cheese operation

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Melissa Fletcher, center, described plans for a creamery at the Edgewood Dairy, with her husband, Charles Fletcher, left, during the recent Missouri Dairy Grazing Conference visit at the Fletchers' farm, north of Purdy. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Rural Purdy dairy operation expands to offer new items

How does a dairy expand to add another moneymaking operation?

That question faced Charles and Melissa Fletcher of the Edgewood Dairy, north of Purdy. They concluded they would begin making cheese, an innovation that will launch in the coming months.

During the recent dairy grazing conference visit to the Fletchers' farm, Melissa Fletcher explained that in 2013, their son and his fiancée announced they would like to return to the farm. Adding more acreage to the 280-acre operation was not feasible. So, the conversation turned to making cheese.

"Some of our friends were doing it," she said. "We researched, and I realized I was going to have to do it. I learned how in the kitchen. My first attempt was scary looking."

After trips to Vermont and Georgia, construction started on a creamery. The entire investment, for the building and equipment, has run between $300,000 and $400,000 and still came with a considerable learning curve. The Fletchers discovered, for example, that moving milk by truck from the milking barn to the creamery building through their field requires no regulations, but driving around the farm on the county road would requiring securing a milk hauling license. Some of the operation would have to remain off limits to the public for sanitation and security.

"We decided to have a store," Fletcher said. "People like to see cheese made. We've always had tourists come to the farm. There's a big disconnect between the farmer and the consumer. We want to make a profit and educate the consumer. If we can help agriculture in that way, that's what we're going to do."

The Edgewood Dairy sells all its milk to Dairy Farmers of America. The creamery will buy milk back from DFA for processing, and could use as much as 1 million pounds of milk, or a quarter of the dairy's production. The milk will be pasteurized, cooked at 145 degrees for 30 minutes, but not homogenized. Customers will buy milk the old-fashioned way, with the cream separating at the top.

The Fletchers plan to sell fresh cheese and four types of aged cheese: a blue cheese, that ages for three months; a Tomme alpine-style cheese, that ages two months; a cloth-bound cheese, that ages six months; and a sharp cheese, that ages for one year. Fletcher said the creamery will not initially produce its own butter, as that requires the purchase of a $30,000 separator.

Conference-goers asked how the Fletchers would dispose of the high-protein whey, a bi-product of milk processing. Fletcher said they had not decided, but leaned toward taking it to their neighbors to serve as feed.

"We're not trying to create more work for ourselves," she said. "We have a vision that Edgewood Creamery would be a brand and could have a full line of dairy products."

The creamery is expected to begin selling products later this year. Both milk and cheese will be available at the creamery store and at the Purdy Farmer's Market.

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