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Purdy, MO—Edgewood Dairy, an award-winning, pasture-based dairy operation here, opened its doors this summer to a new value-added farmstead cheese and bottled milk venture.
Owned and operated by the Fletcher family, Edgewood Dairy is an intensive, rotational grazing system situated on 260 acres in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri.
In 1997, the farm made the switch to pasture grazing. The rotational grazing system allows the cows to graze fresh pasture every 12 hours and as they rotate from paddock to paddock, it also allows the grass to replenish and grow.
The pasture-based dairy currently has a herd of 140 cows with space for more than 300 cows. It currently produces 4 million pounds of milk annually.
Edgewood Dairy was also named Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year in 2008 by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and received the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) Member of Distinction honor in 2012.
Keeping It In The Family
The idea to launch a farmstead cheese company began in the summer of 2013 during a family vacation. Son Tyler Fletcher and his future wife, Aubrey, marketing executive for Edgewood Creamery, were set to graduate from college and get married.
“We knew once we graduated that we wanted to come back to the farm,” Aubrey Fletcher said. “Why not make a value-added product with our good milk?”
At that time, we simply planned on making cheese, Fletcher said. When we settled on having an on-farm retail store, we decided to sell fluid milk as well.
“We decided on aged cheeses through the classes that Melissa and Charles took in Vermont. They decided those cheeses would be the best suited for our area,”
Aubrey Fletcher, Edgewood Creamery
Head cheese maker Melissa Fletcher and her husband Charles then headed to Vermont for a six-day cheesemaking course led by cheese consultant Peter Dixon, followed by a cheese course in St. Louis, MO.
The Fletchers also toured and received advice from friends and colleagues at Sweet Grass Dairy of Thomasville, GA, and Homestead Creamery in Jamesport, MO.
“We definitely did our research and became educated in what we needed to do,” Fletcher said. “Of course, every day is a learning process.”
Construction on the 3,000 square-foot creamery kicked off in October 2014, and was completed last July. The processing facility, aging room and office are located in the same building as the on-farm retail store. Doors officially opened to the public Aug. 10.
The new creamery is capable of processing 1 million pounds of milk per year. Now in its third month of operation, Edgewood Creamery is averaging about 18,000 pounds of milk per month – 8,000 pounds for fluid milk sales and the rest for cheesemaking.
“We definitely have the potential to use a lot more milk in a year,” said Aubrey Fletcher, marketing executive, Edgewood Creamery.
Customer Base Called For More
Edgewood Creamery makes several fresh cheeses, including Farmhouse Original, Plain Jane, Milk & Honey, seasonal Pumpkin Spice, and fresh cheese curds.
Aged cheeses are cloth-bound Edgewood Cheddar available in three-month, six-month and 12-month varieties, and Ozark Mountain Blue aged three to four months.
“Through the research we had done, we knew we wanted to make several fresh varieties – first, to get our capital going, and second – the area we live in doesn’t have a large amount of high income,” Fletcher said.
“We knew that aged cheeses wouldn’t have the best advantage in our store, and most of the demand would be for fresh cheeses,” she said. “We decided to make a majority of fresh cheeses, and offer several aged cheeses.”
“We decided on aged cheeses through the classes that Melissa and Charles took in Vermont. They decided those cheeses would be the best suited for our area,” Fletcher continued.
The creamery will make cheese year-round, and employs four full-time workers and one part-time employee.
The creamery sells its cheese on-site and through local retail markets.
“We do plan to expand into other high-end grocery stores in Springfield, MO, which is a more populated area,” Fletcher said. “Since we did just get started, that process is going slowly, but it will build.”
Through introduction to our new cheeses, Missouri residents are becoming more familiar with the artisan cheese movement, she said.
“A normal consumer would think that Cheddar needs to be orange, so we are eventually opening people up to see that there’s an art to cheesemaking rather than simply commercial,” she said. “People are really thrilled with what we’re doing, and we’re getting a lot of good feedback.”
One of the biggest start-up challenges was actually getting open, according to Fletcher.
“Building the facility was very difficult because there was nothing like our facility around here,” she said. “We had to coach our builders on how it had to be done. We basically became builders as well, because we had to instruct them on how to do things.”
The other biggest obstacle was all the regulations for grade A fluid milk, Fletcher said.
“It is very taxing to get everything just so. There are a lot of hoops to jump through,” she said. “It’s not that you don’t hold yourself to the same standard with cheeses, because of course we do, but milk is just so much more taxing.”
For the grade A side of things, there are definitely more forms to fill out, many more regulations, and it really took us working side by side with the state milk board to really find a balance, Fletcher said.
“If you’re thinking about fluid milk, you need to be working side-by-side with your state inspector,” she said.
Over the next few years, Edgewood Creamery would like to see their products become more regionally available, according to Fletcher.
“I would like to see us extend our reach, maybe even into a large grocery chain like Whole Foods,” she said. “Obviously, that would be further down the line.”
“We’re definitely wanting to push out wholesale-wise, and would love to be getting both our fluid milk and cheese into restaurants, and I’m working on several possibilities right now,” she said.
For more information, visit www.edgewoodcreamery.com.