photo courtesy of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese
Both farmers and cheese producers, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese has been in Waterloo, Wisconsin since 1980. The company is managed by the four Crave Brothers, Charles (feeding), Thomas (crop production), Mark (herd nutrition/milk quality), and George (cheese factory). The cheese factory has been in business since 2001 and produces Fresh Mozzarella, Mascarpone, Farmer’s Rope Cheese, Oaxaca, and Les Frères, a washed-rind, soft-ripened original.
The 1000-Holstein herd at the Crave Brothers’ farmstead feeds on homegrown corn, alfalfa and soybeans. The farm concentrates on conservation and sustainable practices, including minimum tillage and crop rotation.
In 2009 Crave Brothers Fresh Mozzarella won first place for marinated cheese at the Wisconsin State Fair, and second place for marinated cheese and second overall at the American Cheese Society Competition.
Recently, the Crave Brothers have been center stage with their anaerobic manure digester.
Wisconsin Cheese Talk visited Debbie and George Crave at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese.
How did Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese begin?
[George] We first moved here 30 years ago from Beloit, Wisconsin, and began milking a 90-cow herd. As the farm grew, we decided to take the family business further and developed Crave Brother’s Farmstead Cheese in 2000.
[Debbie] The factory was built directly across from the farm in 2001 and the first cheese was produced in 2002.
Tell us more about your farming process and anaerobic manure digester.
[Debbie] We have 1700 acres of land. When planting the fields in the spring, half of the field is covered in corn and the rest planted in soybeans and alfalfa. The entirety of the field’s harvest is used to feed the herd and all fields receive minimum tillage and are fertilized with manure.
[George] Anaerobic (oxygen-free) digestion is a biological process in which microorganisms break down organic waste and produce gas. This gas can then be burned just like natural gas, generating energy. The digester also produces a liquid fertilizer and a dry, organic matter used for bedding and potting soil. The anaerobic manure digester helps manage our farm’s manure and it provides clean, renewable energy for the farm. Right now we have two digesters, there are two big tanks, but we can put a larger engine in as we grow.
What goes into caring for the cows on the dairy farm?
[George] The cows are milked daily. So they are milked 16 in one pen, and we can milk a pen-full in about an hour. There are eight pens, so that’s eight hours worth of milking for one round, and we milk three times a day. The cows have access to pasture in the spring and summer. A good deal of the whey from the cheese making goes into the cow feed. Then there is breeding. We breed our cows every year. The gestation of a cow is 282 days, a good nine months. Two months before they have their calf cows do not lactate. That’s a dry period.
On making the cheese:
[George] The milk is pasteurized, culture and rennin are added, and then the milk sits for 20 minutes while the curd forms. The curd is cut, heated, and stirred. The mixture is poured onto a finishing table where the whey is drained and used for other applications. Including myself, there are four licensed cheesemakers at Crave Brothers.
[George] Debbie’s Chocolate Mascarpone Pie is simply outstanding.
Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Chocolate Mascarpone Pie
by Debbie Crave
1/2 tablespoon butter, softened
1 cup chocolate wafer cookie crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
16 ounces Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Mascarpone
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon Kahlùa or Amaretto
For the crust: Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with ½ tablespoon butter. In a small bowl, add cookie crumbs, sugar, and melted butter and mix together. Press the crumbs evenly in the pan. Place in oven and bake for 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.
For the filling: In a large bowl, add Mascarpone and chocolate. Using a large spoon, stir until well blended and no white streaks remain. Stir in the Kahlùa or Amaretto. Immediately spread the filling in the cooled crust. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream.