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Family farm finds it niche with specialty cheese firm PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 18:00

Hamm dairy operation treats its cows to special feed from Canada to produce milk for Artisan Country Farms products

    Most businesses try to find a niche in the market, and farms are no exception.
    Sandy Loam Dairy Farm in the Town of Saukville is making a foray into the world of specialty cheeses, partnering with Artisan Country Farms on a venture to make omega-3 cheeses.
    Sandy Loam Dairy Farm, operated by the Hamm family, is the only supplier for the cheeses, which were produced last spring and are being test marketed now.
    “We’re not making cheese right now,” said Don Hamm, but he noted production may ramp up again depending on how well the cheeses sell. “It’s been exciting and challenging. We’re seeing how it sells and what varieties sell. We want to see if people like the flavor and like the concept.”
    Hamm, who works for the National Farmers Organization, got into the specialty cheese business after Artisan Country Farms approached the NFO looking for a milk producer in Wisconsin to work with.
    “We had about the amount of milk they were looking for,” Hamm said — about 45,000 pounds every other day.
    It takes about 10 pounds of milk to produce a pound of cheese, he noted.
    To produce a cheese high in omega-3 fatty acids requires a milk that’s high in it. Hamm said his herd was fed a specialty feed brought in from Saskatchewan, Canada, to produce that milk.
    Artisan Country Farms then used the milk to produce a variety of cheeses, including mild, medium and sharp cheddars, a Colby-Monterey Jack, pepper Jack and raw white cheddar cheese, Hamm said, adding they’re sold locally at Bernie’s Fine Meats in Port and Cedar Valley Cheese Store in the Town of Fredonia.
    Omega-3 products such as eggs have become popular in recent years as consumers seek natural products that have health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are said to lower elevated levels of triglycerides, curb stiffness and joint pain and lower levels of depression, according to the Artisan Country Farms website.
    “This is basically looking at creating a healthy cheese,” Hamm said. “It will just help get your levels (of omega-3s) up.
    “They call it functional food.”
    Artisan Country Farms has experience in omega-3 products, Hamm said, noting the company produces a line of pork and beef high in the fatty acids that has gone over well.
    The omega-3 cheeses don’t taste exactly the same as traditional cheeses, Hamm said.
    “I think it’s more of a creamy flavor,” he said, adding his favorite is the raw cheddar cheese.
    There’s been interest in using the cheeses for other food products, such as pizzas, he added.
    Right now, Hamm said, Artisan is awaiting the results of its test marketing before deciding whether to move forward with production. So for now, he’s back to producing milk without the added omega-3s.
    “The feed’s kind of expensive,” he noted.
    But, he added, finding a specialty or niche market is one way smaller farms can survive today.
    “Either you look at having a very large volume of milk or you can try looking at these types of things,” Hamm said. “In farming, the margins tend to be small.”
    Sandy Loam Farm is what Hamm characterized as a mid-size farm with about 300 cows.
    “It sounds like a lot, but nowadays, with herds in the thousands of tens of thousands, it really isn’t,” he said. Ozaukee County, he added, doesn’t really have any huge farms, and the farms here are all owned by families.
    The Hamm farm is a family operation through and through. Hamm, his wife Diane and daughter Heather all work on the farm, as does his brother Randy and his wife Mary and his brother Rick.
    “Most of our labor is family,” he said, adding there are only three people who working the farm today who aren’t related.
    “That’s a little unusual,” he noted.
    Sandy Loam Farm at 4365 Blueberry Rd. has deep roots. Hamm’s great-great-grandfather bought the farmland in 1852, and it expanded in 1931 when his grandparents bought a neighboring farm.
    Hamm’s parents Joe and Betty worked the original farm but sold the cows in 1971, but the his older brother Joe Jr. bought a herd in 1981, again turning the operation into a dairy farm.
    The farm has expanded through the years, but remains firmly in the family.
    “We all love the farm and farm life,” Hamm said, adding that although numerous family members have other jobs, the farm is still the center of their life.
    “Right now, it’s a struggle to make a dairy farm work, but the lifestyle is worth it,” he said.
    And, he said, the fact this is a farm that has been in the family for so long provides a connection that can’t be broken.
    “It’s a little humbling sometimes when you look at a building here and think ‘One of my relations built this in the 1850s,’” he said.
    There’s a footprint in the cement in the long barn on the property, he added, and “I look at that and wonder whose that is. It’s really cool to see that.”

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