Value Added Dairy: Making Cheese
by Corey Hayes and Peggy Murray
Have you ever heard the old saying “Go big or go home”? Usually it is referencing taking on a new challenge in someone’s life or a business adventure, implying that someone should take a leap of faith and see where it takes them. The dairy industry is no strangers to the phrase and over the past decade we have seen farms expand their operations in order to improve productivity and show a larger profit. With that being said, is increasing the herd size the only way a dairy can improve their productively and profit? How about staying at the same number of cows and adding a new enterprise? Joe and Sue Shultz from Shultz Family Cheese in Lowville NY will tell you that expanding the herd to produce a larger quantity of milk was not what they were looking to do.
If you are familiar with Lewis County, you’ll understand the love for Cheese Curd this county has. Just stop in at Lowville Producers Coop and I guarantee you will walk away with the taste of fresh curd in your mouth. Understanding your market and knowing what consumers want are a few of the reasons Joe and Sue Shultz decided to take on a new adventure in their lives. Taking their own milk and producing a product that was sure to sell within the region where they are located. Now, the credit for this decision should be given to Sue, she first began her thought process just last year after reading an article about processing milk to make cheese. She began to explore the different options out there and researched many concepts and ideas, making their first batch of cheese on the stove top. With the farm operating as an intense grazing farm, both Joe and Sue were looking for something more to do with their farm, with the idea being to improve profitability. Originally they thought that bottling their own milk was where they wanted to go, but after spending some time exploring the cheese making business they decided to go that route instead.
With any new adventure that people take on it is a good idea to do your homework and understand what exactly is involved with the process. Joe and Sue spent the winter of 2010-2011 exploring different cheese processing plants. Traveling throughout New York State and up into Canada, Sue and Joe visited different processing plants and gathered ideas and knowledge for their own business. So the process began, early this spring the farm broke ground to add a cheese room off the already existing milk house and things started to move fast.
Let’s rewind a little and give some history of the farm, the property was originally bought by Joe’s parents back in 1973, Joe’s father who was originally a Delaware County Extension Agent bought the farm and began to milk registered Holsteins. Joe spent his youth on the farm, forming a love for agriculture that could never be broken. After completing his education at Morrisville State College and Cornell University, Joe began his career in Oswego County working for FSA, still involved with the agriculture industry. However, as many of you know the love and desire for agriculture that we grew up with is hard to beat and milking cows once again was calling Joe home to the farm. Joe return home to the farm and rented the farm from his parents, where he continued the grazing program and kept the cattle numbers that same. In early 2000 Joe decided to add on to the originally barn to improve cow comfort and ventilization in the barn to improve productivity. The farm originally owned around 130 acres of land and just recently bought 20 more acres to improve grazing ability and forage inventory.
With the help of many different organizations throughout New York, Joe and Sue set out on an adventure that they never thought was possible. Shultz Family Cheese was on its way, and there was no holding them back from having “Curds our whey”. With the help of Farm Net personnel and many individuals from NYS Agriculture & Markets a business plan began to develop. Equipment was being purchased as early as January of 2011 and the business was taking shape.
August was the first month of production for Shultz Family Cheese, and today they are producing Cheese Curd three times a week using a third of their total milk production. Originally they assumed they would be making cheese once or twice a week, but once the locals discovered their cheese curd, the demand has shot through the roof. While interviewing the Shultz’s, in a time frame of just an hour, eight different people pulled into the driveway to purchase some of their fresh curd. Shultz Family Cheese can be found on shelves throughout the county, at different country stores, farmers markets and recently a local Apple Cider Mill took on the product, increasing demand and profitability for the product.
No matter what we choose to do as a business, our mission or goal is to make a profit. Joe and Sue Shultz are an amazing example of individuals putting their minds to work to improve the overall productively and profit of their farm. Sure they could have stuck to their business the way it was, but like many others they wanted more. Shultz Family Cheese is an example of hard work, determination and having a plan. A plan that is sure to change as business progresses, but a plan that set them up for success.
Shultz Family Cheese “curds our whey” is located in Lowville NY and owned by Sue, Joe and Bronson Shultz. If you are interested in purchasing some any of their products or who like to hear more about their decision making process and how they got started, feel free to contact them at (315) 376-7548 for more information.