by Beth Rotto, Chill Buyer
Eecently I attended the grand opening of a new creamery in Waukon, Iowa. The venture, WW Homestead Dairy, is housed in a renovated building, vacated by Northern Engraving several years ago, so I knew where to go. I found a parking place at a distance from the building, and got into a long line extending outside the door. Soon I was inside the spiffy retail space, decorated with the great, close-up paintings of cows done by Valerie Miller of the Steel Cow Gallery, also located in Waukon. (I’ve noticed some of these cow portraits in miniature at Agora Arts in Decorah done as Christmas tree ornaments as well as clocks and prints. Do you know the ones I’m talking about?)
Chomping on their fresh cheese curds, I made it through an office area and descended the stairs into an observatory hall. There, everyone was greeted by the three owners of the business, Tom Weighner, his brother Paul Weighner, and their friend Tom Walleser (Do you see where the WW part of the name WW Homestead Dairy comes from?) Although the shiny, stainless steel machines were not in operation, the men explained the process and pointed out the path the milk takes once it enters the dairy. Milk is pasteurized using the HTST method (high temperature, short time.) The cream is separated and added back in to make 1% and 2% milk. Unlike most milk available commercially, this milk is not homogenized. It is what is called “creamline” milk, and the cream rises to the top. Typically the milk is shaken up by the consumer before pouring, unless they want that extra cream on their cereal or in their coffee. Homogenization is a process that breaks down the fat molecules in milk so that it does not separate.
Many people believe that non-homogenized milk is healthier and tastes better than homogenized. (One of my early memories is of being four years old and fetching milk bottles in from the milk box on our back steps, where a delivery person had left them very early in the morning. On this day, I was awake before my parents and I decided to make my own breakfast. I poured cereal in the bowl, pulled the cap off a bottle of milk and poured it on top. I didn’t know to shake it, so I got all that thick cream. I guess my mother had kept this special, top-of-the-bottle serving for the adults in the house. Anyway, I do remember her disappointment that I had wasted that good cream on my kid-style sugar-laden cereal and didn’t really appreciate it.)
I thanked the owners and turned down another hall. I couldn’t see the front of the line or the end of the line. It seemed like the whole community was there, including everyone I know from Waukon. Everyone seemed excited about a local dairy and wanted to see where their milk was going to come from…and perhaps they heard there was a free lunch. Just a couple more turns down long corridors, and we were in a large room set up for dining. It was a dairy feast – more cheese curds, big glasses of milk, fresh butter on crackers, ice cream, and burgers. Later Tom Weighner told me that they served over 900 sandwiches that day. It was definitely a “grand” opening.
Milk for the dairy comes from the Walleser and Weighner farms. Both farms milk around 100 cows. The animals are fed home-grown feed, a total mixed ration of corn, hay and haylage (chopped hay). While young and dry cows are pastured outdoors, milking cows are kept indoors in a sand bedded, free stall where they are free to move about, not tethered as in some dairy operations. The stall floor is sand, which is raked and cleaned and is comfortable for the cows to lie on. The partners are committed to caring for their animals and in producing high quality milk and milk products.
Milk and fresh cheese curds from WW Homestead Dairy are delivered to our co-op each week (currently on Thursdays.) Watch for other dairy products as well!