At Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, our team members are more than employees; they are like family. This culture has contributed to the longevity of our staff, whose careers with us often span decades. See our most recent Commitment to Craft acknowledgements.

January, 2023

Please join us in congratulating Bob Radke on 25 years of service with Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery.

Bob Radke – 25 Years of Service
Damien Waldron – 5 Years of Service
Alex Klatt – 5 Years of Service
Tiffany Huppert – 5 Years of Service
Travis Oliver- 1 Year of Service
Tom Johnson – 1 Year of Service
Heather Klade- 1 Year of Service
Darci Frederickson – 1 Year of Service

 

As we begin the New Year, let us take a moment to briefly reflect on 2022.

The biggest and most notable accomplishment of the year was the startup of the Menomonie location. We started our first test batch of cheeses in February and began to move product in late March. Producing quality product out of a new plant requires patience and some trial and error. From experience, I know it can take a year before production and quality are right. I’m pleased with how things are progressing.

One challenge was that we didn’t have as many employees transfer from Comstock to the new production facility as we expected. However, we had great success hiring skilled staff for the Menomonie location. Our presence in Menomonie has been well received and the community has been supportive and welcoming.

We continue to be challenged by lingering Covid supply chain issues. Supplies that normally would be easily and quickly sourced in the past are much more difficult to find today. This impacts production at all the plants, making it difficult to achieve the level of production and efficiency we would like to see. One example of such an item is metal springs, which are now extremely difficult to find. There are millions of springs needed to construct an efficiently operating new production facility.

Despite the challenges, we continue to make progress in Menomonie. We are running more milk than we had out of the Comstock facility. We continue to work with our team and expand our skillsets so we can continue to increase production and quality. In addition to cheese production, we transferred all cut and wrap to the Menomonie location, which was another learning curve for our crew.

The Menomonie retail store has been a success and those who have visited offer positive feedback. The store looks fantastic–open, bright, and spacious with fun and decorative elements that fit our organization’s personality. The location makes visitors smile. We continue to implement strategies to increase visitor count and retail sales. We have a great team in place there that offers consistent hospitality, and we are now working to build our reputation in this new market and establish the store as a destination, just as we did with our Ellsworth location.

In our New London processed cheese plant we set several records in 2022, the first being in production. The team did a great job of getting 41 million pounds made, which is 15 million more than 2018. New London is now making about 57% more cheese than when we first purchased the location. We are looking to add some key pieces of equipment to allow the plant to function even better in 2023 with additional capacity and less strain on our employees. The plant continues to play a key role in adding value-added cheese capacity and profit to the creamery.

It was another big year for our Ellsworth location. However, we continue to be hampered by restrictions on supplies, particularly CO2. We are installing additional storage on-site to allow us to meet our cheese curd demand while avoiding running short in the future. Despite this, we were still able to increase cheese curd sales by 15% in 2022.

Our crew continues to battle different aspects of cheesemaking that are causing disruptions. We are adding processes and equipment to more adequately handle disruptions so we can better process wastewater. Moving the cut and wrap to Menomonie offered efficiencies that allowed us to add more retail customers for 2023. Being more efficient is important and we continue to look for ways to add and supplement our system for better operations in the future.

We continue our process of transitioning ownership of our Comstock Facility to Hastings Creamery and have been working closely with them to ensure the transition is a smooth one. Our strategy here is two-fold: We would like to see the Comstock location continue its legacy of cheesemaking and thrive in the community, and by having an additional line of value-added cheeses available to our sales team we can better position the creamery as our customers first choice in new cheeses. This is why we’re working with Hastings Creamery to not only provide a successful transition of the facility but to also support them in introducing their product to a new market.

As we look to 2023 our focus is on growing sales across all locations with key vendors, as well as taking on some new cheese curd retail volume with exciting new retail partners. Our team is looking forward to the opportunities the New Year will bring.

Often, when announcing that we’ve won another prestigious cheese award, we will hear the comment, “Great, but how does that help my milk check.”

Sure, entering contests requires entrance fees, shipping costs, and staff time; however, it’s an investment that pays off in these four ways:

1. The judges in the competitions are very experienced and taste a lot of cheese. Their feedback is invaluable to our cheesemakers and quality control team, giving them important insight into how we might improve our products.

2. Our market and sales teams are experts at maximizing these awards. An award-winning cheese grabs attention and can open the door to new sales opportunities and more cheese sales.

3. These awards come with a certain amount of new coverage, both regionally and locally. We could never afford to purchase this kind of media exposure. It’s a big boost to our marketing efforts.

4. Teamwork is required when making the cheese, selecting the cheese, and submitting the cheese for competitions. Showcasing our products in the best light is a sense of pride for our team. Entering these contests and receiving these awards is an opportunity to work together and lifts employee satisfaction.

John Freeman, Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery’s Senior Director of Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service, met up with Tammy Simon, Tourism Manager at the Menomonie Area Chamber and Visitor Center, to talk about our new Menomonie retail store and cheese production facility.


John shared some interesting facts about cheese and cheese making as well as what makes our Menomonie production plant unique among our three production facilities. Tammy was very interested in learning more about the cheeses we make, as well as the specialty food items and regional products available at our retail stores.

And since the airing of this podcast is just before Christmas, Tammy was sure to pick John’s brain for some of the most unique gift ideas for cheese lovers. We’ve linked our top gift ideas below to help you in your search.

Listen to the podcast here:

Top Gift Ideas from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery

Ellsworth’s 2022 Gift Catalog

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery Gift Boxes

Ellsworth Cheese Ambassador Program

Last month the National Milk Producers Federation held its 2022 Annual Meeting in Denver, CO. One of the highlights of the event is the Championship Cheese Contest where Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery took top honors! We were awarded the coveted Chairman’s Trophy for our Antonella Pepperoni and Marinara, recognizing our cooperative for producing the best cheese in the nationwide competition. What makes this award even more special is that this cheese was produced in our new Menomonie facility!

The judges were impressed with the flavor of the cheese which they found to be the perfect balance of cheese, pepperoni, marinara, and herbs. They also remarked on the technique, commenting on the difficulty of infusing meat into cheese and not having technical openings in the final product.

“It was satisfying and rewarding to see the awards table filled with Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery value-added cheeses produced at all of our locations! These awards are a true testament to our quality milk, skilled team members, and the process we’ve worked so hard to develop to produce some outstanding cheeses.” 

Paul Bauer, Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery CEO/General Manager

Each of our production facilities were represented among the top awards at the contest. Our cheese curds swept the Natural Cheese Snack category, and according to an insider, our Dill Pickle Cheese Curds were also a close contender for the Chairman’s Trophy.

Unique or Mild Flavor

First Place: Antonella Pepperoni & Marinara
Second Place: Antonella Garden Vegetable with Sweet Basil

Natural Cheese Snack

First Place: Natural Dill Pickle Cheddar Cheese Curds
Second Place: Natural Hickory Bacon Cheddar Cheese Curds
Third Place: Natural Cheddar Cheese Curds

Processed American Plain

Third Place: White EZ Melt Loaf

The National Milk Producers Federation is comprised of a majority of the dairy cooperatives in the United States with its members marketing more than two-thirds of the U.S. milk supply. The contest is a competitive one, with the best producers across the US entering products and vying for top honors. This year there were a total of 216 cheese and yogurt entries.

WisBusiness reported on the awards. You can see the full article here.

It’s a holiday made just for us, National Cheese Curd Day is coming up on Saturday, October 15. As the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin, this is one holiday we like to celebrate big and we invite you to join in! We’re celebrating at our own retail locations and are also participating in events across Wisconsin. Here’s where you can find us…

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery Retail Stores in Ellsworth and Menomonie

Our team is looking forward to celebrating National Cheese Curd Day with you. In honor of the day, we’ll have sampling and live music along with special discounts on… you guessed it…CHEESE CURDS! Purchase 1-pound bags of our fresh natural and seasoned curd flavors Buy 1 and Get 1 Free. Plus, 50% off on deep-fried cheese curds at both locations. In Ellsworth, this will be the last weekend our Curd Wagon will be frying curds until next spring—it’s time to pack up the wagon for the winter. Come by for one last boat. Need directions? You’ll find our locations here.

Drink Wisconsibly Pub’s Curd Fest in Milwaukee

Curd Fest is back! After two years of no event (you know why), the Drink Wisconsibly Pub is hosting squeaky cheese fans for Curd Fest once again! Curd Fest in Milwaukee is the next best thing to the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival if you’re looking to get your curds on.

Of course, the event wouldn’t be complete without curds from the state’s Cheese Curd Capital–The Drink Wisconsibly Pub will be dishing out Ellsworth Cheese Curds with other Wisconsin curds also being sampled during the event. In true Milwaukee style, there will also be polka music, chedd-art, and more! OnMilwaukee spotlights the best of this fest here.  Get more event details and ticket information via their Facebook Event here.

Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center

We’re teaming up with the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center to celebrate the day with blind cheese curd taste testing, deep-fried cheese curds, free cheese curds, and more! You’ll taste test six different Ellsworth cheese curds flavors, with a chance to win prizes for guessing each flavor correctly! You’ll also learn our cheese curds are made and enjoy deep-fried Ellsworth cheese curds at the Wisconsin Café. Plus, the first 150 people to visit on this day will receive a free 2 oz. snack pack of our cheese curds! The event will be held from 9am-1pm.

The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center is a state-of-the-art, interactive agricultural education center located in Manitowoc County. It’s an awesome destination and a great place to dive into the wonders of agriculture. Named among Time for Kids’ 50 Coolest Places of 2019 and a Trip Advisor Top Choice, you can spend a day as a family exploring interactive exhibits and learning about the farm. Get all the details on their website here.

No matter where you’re from, we hope you’re able to take in a National Cheese Curd Day event with us this year. If you don’t celebrate this holiday where you’re from, or your schedule doesn’t permit, watch our Facebook page for something special our team is putting together to commemorate the day!

 

We were honored to be named one of three finalists at the Wisconsin Economic Development Association’s (WEDA) Community and Economic Development Awards (CEDA) event last month! The Business Retention & Expansion Award recognizes economic development projects in which a community successfully mobilizes to retain and/or expand an existing business of great importance to the community. The Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery’s new Menomonie plant represents an investment of over $30 million, a collaboration with the City of Menomonie, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, along with the creation of 78 jobs, many of which were retained from our former location.

Ray French, WEDC Regional Economic Director, visiting our Ellsworth headquarters to present Paul Bauer, Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery CEO/General Manager, with this commemorative plaque.

WEDA’s Community and Economic Development Awards (CEDA) is Wisconsin’s premier awards program for the economic development community. The Menomonie project was not an easy one, which makes this acknowledgment that much more meaningful to our organization! Keeping our existing location in operation while building the plant in Menomonie was a challenge. In addition, the ongoing effects of the pandemic, including supply chain issues and interrupted construction timelines, added uncertainty during the project and transition.

However, we put that all behind us when we accepted our first load of milk into the plant earlier this year. And with the opening of the adjoining retail store, our vision became reality! We couldn’t have done it without our great staff and many community and project partners. Thanks to this team effort, we look forward to many years of crafting quality cheese at this new facility.

When it comes to making a quality product, the importance of a skilled workforce can’t be overstated. That’s one reason the relationships we’ve fostered with our regional education partners are so important to our organization.

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls is one of those valued partners. Many UW-RF graduates fill critical and valued roles within our organization. One UW-RF project that is particularly important to us as a producer of dairy products is their Dairy Pilot Plant, which is currently undergoing a major renovation and set to reopen next spring.

We value our great working relationship with UW-River Falls, and their commitment to careers in agriculture. Pictured here (from left to right), Maria Gallo, Chancellor, UW-River Falls; Paul Bauer, General Manager, Ellsworth Creamery; John Freyholtz, Director of Operations, Ellsworth Creamery; Michelle Farner, UW-River Falls Dairy Pilot Plant Manager.

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery has been a big supporter of the project. In total, our board of directors has committed $150,000 to the renovation. The Dairy Pilot Plant offers students the opportunity for hands-on learning using state-of-the-art technology and processes for unmatched teaching, learning, and research opportunities–all extremely important in an evolving industry such as ours.

Continued growth and success of our cooperative rely on a passionate and skilled workforce. We’re confident our investment into this project will pay dividends as we look ahead to our future workforce needs.

WisBusiness spoke with Michell Farner, manager of the Dairy Pilot Plant, to learn more about the project. You can find the article here.

We caught Rueben at his desk catching up on emails. Keep up the good work, Rueben!

Please join us in welcoming Rueben Nilsson to the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery team. Rueben joins us as our Menomonie Director of Operations. He comes to us with 15 years of cheese production experience having previously worked for Caves of Faribault-Prairie Farms Dairy and The Lone Grazer Creamery.

Rueben’s focus is on keeping the Menomonie facility running efficiently. Most of his day is spent checking on production processes and working with the plant’s department heads to address issues and head off any problems before they happen. Being a new plant, there’s a fair amount of troubleshooting that takes place each day.

“I feel like I’ve reverted to learning instead of being an expert,” says Rueben as he comments on his time working in Menomonie. “I’m working with different cheeses, equipment, and cheesemaking tools than at any of my previous jobs, which means new challenges every day. It’s been exciting.”

Another important part of Rueben’s role is forward planning. He is continually evaluating and planning for how best to increase production and add additional efficiencies all while keeping quality high. His goal is ensuring the plant is achieving its full potential and poised to meet future demand for the products made there.

“We’re thrilled to have Rueben and his years of expertise in artisan cheesemaking join us,” says Paul Bauer. “His experience will be an asset to our senior management team, and he will be a great addition to the Menomonie community.”

We’re looking forward to seeing Rueben’s continued growth and contributions in his career with ECC!

Special thanks to WEDC for this amazing photo that perfectly captures the excitement of the event.

Yep, we sure know how to throw a party alright!  In July we officially celebrated the opening of our Menomonie store. It was a 4-day celebration that did not disappoint!

John Freeman, our Director of Sales & Retail Stores, kicked off the festivities and introduced Paul Bauer, CEO who thanked the many people who played a role in making this new facility possible. Several special guests also attended to mark the momentous occasion. Among them were Mayor Randy Knaack, City of Menomonie, Secretary Missy Hughes, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and Secretary Randy Romanski, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Each shared what the facility meant to their organizations. If you missed attending the ceremony, you can view it here.

The Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce then officially welcomed us to their chamber family with a ribbon cutting—confetti cannons and all! Everyone in attendance took part. How exciting! You can relive the ribbon cutting here.

We then welcomed everyone into the store for tastings and shopping, which continued throughout the weekend. People came from across the region to celebrate with us and our staff was busy helping customers and stocking inventory throughout the event. The viewing windows were particularly busy as guests watch and commented on the cheesemaking process taking place there.

Guesses for how many people joined us throughout the entire event vary widely. At times lines to the checkouts extended way into the store! However, we can report that during the event we processed over 1,400 transactions (of course our actual guest count is much more as most people came as families and in groups). We sold nearly 600 pizzas, over 100 boats of fried cheese curds, over 200 single scoop cones, and almost 700 pounds of our world-famous Natural cheese curds! All in one weekend–Wowza!

If you’ve yet to visit our new store, we invite you to plan a road trip! Be sure to introduce yourselves to the staff when you do.

Our entire team wishes to thank you for your support of this important initiative. You’ve made an important contribution to our industry and left a lasting legacy to the next generation of farmer owners and cheesemakers.