In The News
Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese highlights its actions behind awards
April 19, 2019
|Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese highlights its actions behind awards|
By Kate Sander
WATERLOO, Wis. — Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, a family-owned cheese business, continues to win awards and grow its business.
The Crave Brothers’ portfolio of cheeses consists primarily of Mozzarella variations. Most recently, the company won the top awards in the Part-Skim Mozzarella and the Fresh Mozzarella classes at the 2019 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.
In addition to Fresh Mozzarella, Crave Brothers produces two types of String cheese — Farmer’s Rope Part-Skim Mozzarella and Oaxaca. Farmer’s Rope is a coiled cheese, with a Crave Brothers’ protected trademark configuration, that is good for melting, shredding or eating in strings as a snack, while Oaxaca is a melting cheese that is tied in a knot. In addition, the company makes Mascarpone and fresh Cheddar curds. All have been award winners.
The awards are gratifying, says George Crave, who founded the cheese business with his brothers in 2001 to add value to their dairy’s milk.
“It shows we’re consistent and is a validation of our quality, our milk and our strong staff,” he says.
Besides its first-place awards at this year’s U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, Crave Brothers placed second in the contest’s Fresh Mozzarella class, second in the Latin American Style Melting Cheeses class with its Oaxaca and second in the Snack Cheese Class with its White Cheddar Curds.
These are on top of many other awards over the past several years. In the last year alone, the company’s awards have included a first for its Mascarpone at the World Dairy Expo competition and a second for its Marinated Fresh Mozzarella and a third for its Oaxaca at the American Cheese Society competition. In addition, the company placed first at the 2018 Wisconsin State Fair with its Marinated Fresh Mozzarella, as well as second with its Mascarpone and third with its Oaxaca.
Crave points out the company doesn’t pick out “special” cheese to enter into competitions, but rather picks them off the shelf, making the award winners representative of any of the company’s cheeses. Kurt Premo has been head cheesemaker since the company’s first vat, and Crave is quick to acknowledge the skill and expertise that has led to so many awards — and cheese curds that are so popular locally that they’re distributed almost right out of the vat.
But as important as consistency and quality are to Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, they aren’t the whole story behind this farmstead operation.
“It’s not only about quality cheese but our real action plans behind it,” Crave says. “I hesitate to call it the ‘story’ behind our cheese because it’s not a story — it’s actions.”
The Crave family focuses on 4 “Cs” — “crops to cows, cheese to consumer,” Crave says, noting while some big companies like to talk about the farm side of the business, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese can accurately present everything that goes into its products.
The milk that makes Crave Brothers’ cheese comes from the family’s herd of 2,200 cows. The cows are fed crops, including corn, soybeans, alfalfa, grass and winter wheat, that are grown on the 3,000 acres of land the family farms.
“We do it all in our family business. We’re the real deal. We’re the farmers, and we have as much control of our inputs and outputs as any cheese company in the country,” Crave says.
The farm side of the business is highly-tuned, Crave continues, with a focus on cow comfort and milk quality. The dairy keeps somatic cell counts below 100,000, indicating it has healthy cows free of mastitis and also enhancing cheese quality and yield.
In addition to caring for its animals, the Crave farm and cheese plant are environmentally friendly, and the company is one of few that can claim to be carbon negative.
“People want to know where their food comes from and about sustainability,” Crave says.
The company operates two 750,000-gallon anaerobic manure digesters. These create methane gas from the cows’ waste, which powers a generator that generates enough electricity to power the Crave Brothers farm and cheese plant, plus 300 area homes. The digesters reduce odor from the manure and also provide other usable products. Liquid byproducts are used on the farm’s fields, and dry organic matter byproducts are used as animal bedding and in potting soil. The company reminds consumers of its green initiative with its “Produced with Renewable Energy” logo.
“It’s an expensive system,” Crave says of the generator. “But it does work.”
Despite the expense, the system has paid for itself.
“When you can produce more with the same or less, it’s better for everyone,” Crave adds.
Since opening their farmstead cheese factory, the Craves also have worked with numerous organizations throughout the state to educate consumers about Wisconsin agriculture.
“We host a lot of groups,” Crave says, noting that the company works closely with Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin on both dairy farming and cheesemaking tours. “We do a plethora of outreach.”
In 2018, Crave Brothers released a video to share its story with consumers and buyers. Divided into five segments, the video shows the Crave family behind the business, the farm that produces feed for the dairy cows, the company’s green initiatives, its cheesemaking processes and, finally, its cheese varieties.
Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese also maintains a website and a presence on Facebook featuring cheese information, recipes, funny anecdotes and pictures of the travels of Crave and his wife, Debbie.
While they are busy when they are home, George and Debbie Crave often are on the road, attending trade shows, visiting customers and promoting the business.
The company’s Fresh Mozzarella and other cheeses are available from Seattle to Miami, Crave says, and a small amount of Oaxaca is being exported. The cheeses are sold under the Crave name, as well as under private label and for foodservice. About 40 percent of the company’s cheeses are sold for retail and another 40 percent are used in foodservice. The remainder is sold for ingredient usage.
Crave Brothers recently introduced a 1.2-ounce Mozzarella chub in a single-serve package for snacking. The chub is shorter and fatter than a typical piece of String cheese, Crave says. The company also is seeing increased demand for its marinated Fresh Mozzarella, which is available in an 8-ounce package and 3-pound deli tub.
Fluctuating with the seasons, the cheese operation currently uses 60-80 percent of the milk produced on the farm, and the company continues to grow that utilization.
“We’re always looking to add 5-10 percent in sales annually, and I think 2019 will be another good year for us,” Crave says, adding that he enjoys working with customers and helping them grow their businesses.
The company’s next goals also are to prepare to transition the company to the next generation. The Crave dairy business is owned by seven members of the Crave family. An additional four members work on the dairy farm and cheese production sides of the business.
“We want to be responsible to the business and to the employees,” Crave says.
With 18 years now in the cheese business, Crave says it’s been a learning experience throughout the entire time. He adds it wouldn’t have been successful without the strong team the company has in place.