Wisconsin Cheese Tour – Day 4 – Crave Brothers Sustainable Diary Farmers

May 20, 2010

This was the second visit to The Crave Brothers in Waterloo. The Lady and I are big fans of the Crave Brothers’ Farmstead cheeses, especially their Mascarpone and Les Frères washed-rind, a true Wisconsin Original. The Lady bought both the Mascarpone and Petite Frères when the group visited Woodsons earlier in the trip.

Debbie Crave met the group and escorted them into the tasting room where she and Beth treated them to samples of their cheeses plus original recipes using their cheeses. Sampled and greatly enjoyed were the fresh mozzarella, marinated mozzarella balls, Farmer’s Rope, Mascarpone and Les Frères. The dishes included a baked dish of various mushrooms and Les Frères and two yummy desserts; the chocolate mascarpone pie and a sugar cup with a custard made using the mascarpone.

The group watched a video telling the story of the farm and the four brothers. The farm consists of 1700 acres and 1200 cows of which 2/3 produce milk daily throughout the year.

In 2000, the four brothers made the decision to take the family into cheese making in order to support the family now and into the future. Each brother has a specific specialty: Thomas is in charge of the crops and farm equipment maintenance; Charles specializes in the care of the animals and also does some of the paperwork necessary to run the farm; Mark oversees the milking and George is the licensed cheesemaker.

The farm crops include corn, soybeans and alfalfa; all used to feed the herd. They fertilize with manure and use a minimal amount of tilling to maintain the land properly.

In 2007 they installed an anaerobic digester which processes all the waste from the cows and turns it into energy.  The energy in turn provides enough power for the entire farm plus 500 homes in the area. They sell all of the electricity to the power company and then buy it back as they don’t have the right equipment to transmit the power properly. In addition to the power, the digester provides fertilizer and potting soil which can also be used for bedding for the herd. I’m doing some research on this responsible approach to farm waste and will have a separate post on this subject in the next few days.

The animals are pastured in the spring and summer. They are happy cows and have their own society within the herd. Certain cows hang out together and a pecking order is established.

They use 100K pounds of feed a day which in addition to pasture foliage includes cottonseed, salt and whey. The diets are designed to meet the needs of the various situations such as a formula for pregnant cows and another for older cows and a third for overweight animals.

Due to the outstanding treatment of their cows, the milk yield per cow is about 30K pounds of milk per yield, while the national average is 20K.

There are 4 licensed cheesemakers at Crave Brothers with a combined experience of 60 years. They produced 10K pounds of cheese a day which means they must have 100K pounds of milk daily from their herd. The milking parlor is only 325 feet away from the cheesemaking facility and the milk in pumped through a stainless still pipe that goes under the road.

In 2008 NBC Nightly News featured a short segment on the Crave Brothers and their sustainable practices.

After the sampling and the videos, the group was taken on a tour of the farm and got to see everything up close including the nursery where the female calves live (the male calves are sold to local beef farmers). Shown here is a calf that befriended The Lady.


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