Wiebes' big cheeses of their business
It is hard to fathom what 1,800 lbs. of cheese would look like, but it is what Jason and Sheri Wiebe can make with one day’s worth of milk from their dairy cows outside Durham.
The Wiebes have been making cheese at Wiebe Dairy and distributing it for more than 10 years. They make several varieties and ship out several thousands of pounds of cheese a month in 40-pound blocks across the country and locally.
“It was something we decided to do when prices for milk were bad,” Jason said. “It was another way to supplement income.”
The farm also ships milk three times a week.
Jason said the largest reason for making cheese is to give the farm a connection with the final product.
“Before we loaded the milk onto the truck and watched it drive down the road and then didn’t know where it ended up,” Jason said. “Now we can see it in the store, we package it, ship it, cut it, and know where most of it goes. It’s a good feeling.”
Jason said he likes seeing the product go full circle, from raising the cows to recycling their manure to help crops grow.
Creating 14 varieties of cheese is a family affair.
“It’s nice because so many family members can be involved,” Sheri said.
Sheri handles shipping and labeling, Jason keeps the dairy running smoothly, and their four children help when and where they can.
The farm was founded by Jason’s grandpa in the 1920s, then passed to Jason’s dad, then to him. Jason said he is constantly trying to find new ways to improve the farm to help it last for generations to come.
“Dairying is an eight day a week 40 hour day job,” Jason said. “We milk at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day and when we leave we stop making cheese so we can’t be gone long because everything piles up.”
Because the Wiebes’ family lives so far away, when they visit they like to stay a week to get ample family time.
“We really can’t be gone longer than that because when we’re gone for a week, it takes two weeks to get caught up,” Sheri said.
Wiebe Dairy makes multiple varieties of cheese including their unique variety called Cottonwood River Cheddar, which is widely distributed. It takes 6,000 pounds of milk, or one day’s worth of milking to make an 1,800-pound batch of cheese.
“It’s a very sharp cheddar,” Jason said. “It’s a full flavored cheese with a slight sweet note and no acid bite.”
It takes several days to make each cheese variety.
First, the milk is warmed slowly to between 92 and 100 degrees. Steam is used to heat the milk creating a sauna like atmosphere for Aaron Herbel, the dairy’s main cheese maker.
“The milk has to be warmed to allow the good bacteria to grow,” Jason said. “Then it ripens for a time that varies by type and then we add in the enzymes to make it firm and let it set again.”
Once these processes are complete, the curds are separated from the whey, which is later added to cattle feed because of its high nutritional value. Flavorings and other additives are mixed in, then the curds are poured into molds to create 40-pound blocks that are pressed overnight. The room where the cheese is made is constructed so the entire room can be washed out for easier cleaning.
The blocks are then stored in small wooden crates and loaded into a freezer cooled to 50 degrees where they age to develop flavor for up to a year.
Once the cheeses are aged, they are either shipped as 40-pound blocks, or cut up into ½ or 1 pound blocks and labeled by Sheri and several others.
“It takes four people to package and label,” she said. “We do this in tight quarters so everyone has to get along and be able to work with each other.”