Nestled between green pastures in Barry County, Missouri, is a bright red building Edgewood Creamery calls home. In the surrounding paddocks, dairy cattle graze, chew their cud, and make the milk used in the creamery’s products.
Edgewood Dairy and Edgewood Creamery are family endeavors. Charles and Melissa Fletcher own the dairy. Their son, Tyler, is involved in the dairy operation and his wife, Aubrey, is in charge of marketing and promoting the creamery. Charles and Melissa’s daughter, Mikala, also helps in the creamery along with Melissa’s mother, Wanda Brown. Leon Brown, Wanda’s husband, helps bottle milk and makes deliveries with Charles on Thursdays as well as helping during planting season.
“We’re pretty much family operated,” Aubrey said, adding they do have some additional employees on the farm and in the creamery. On the dairy, they employ a couple part-time workers as well as one full-time employee. There are two additional employees at the creamery.
Edgewood Dairy operates on an intensive, rotational grazing system. Cattle are given 12 hours of grass on 52 five-acre paddocks where they graze alfalfa, fescue and annuals such as ryegrass, wheat, crabgrass and sudangrass. After the drought of 2012, they put in an irrigation system for 115 acres.
The cows are primary grass-fed but do receive some grain in the double 22 parabone milk parlor.
“We milk about 300 cows or a little over,” Charles said. “We like colored cattle for their protein and butterfat.”
Edgewood Dairy runs cattle crossed with Holstein, Jersey and Swedish Red. They also have some New Zealand Friesian and Normande genetics on the farm.
He added they choose breeds with increasing cheese yield and flavor in mind and raise their own replacement heifers.
They have two calving seasons. Most of the girls calve in February and March. They have about 80 cows which calve in September and October.
“Eventually, we will have to do more 50-50,” Aubrey said, explaining as demand for products in the creamery increases, they will need more consistent production year round.
The calves are placed on an accelerated program and spend only six weeks on milk replacer.
In 1997, Charles attended a grazing school in New Zealand, brought home a roll of polywire, and put his first cows on grass. He and Melissa worked with the University of Missouri Extension during the process to make the transition as smoothly as possible. Since that time, they have more than doubled their cowherd.
The farm was also recently certified through the Missouri Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Program and was recognized as the 2008 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year and a 2012 Dairy Farmers of America Member of Distinction.
In 2013 while on vacation in Colorado, the idea for Edgewood Creamery was formed. Tyler and Aubrey were trying to decide what they were going to do upon their college graduations and knew they didn’t really want to expand the herd as finding more land in the area could be difficult.
“We knew we have high-quality milk, and we really started doing a lot of research,” Aubrey said. She added they took classes with Peter Dixon who is a cheese expert with over 30 years experience.
“The research was very beneficial,” she said, continuing to say they had a lot of fun though they had quite a bit to learn about regulations and hoops they needed to jump through to make the creamery a reality.
In August 2015, Edgewood Creamery had its grand opening and the entire family hasn’t slowed down since then.
At the creamery, milk from the dairy is made into cheese or bottled milk, Aubrey said. Milk and cheese are gently pasteurized in a 500-gallon vat. Milk is then bottled in a bottling room and placed directly into a storage cooler.
“If making cheese, the milk stays in the vat and the necessary cultures, rennet, flocculation, heating, cutting and stirring are completed,” Aubrey explained. “Depending on the cheese, it is either going to be packaged if fresh or going to the aging room if cheddar or blue.”
Consumers can purchase milk and cheeses at the creamery’s retail store and at a variety of retailers in the Ozarks or purchase Edgewood cheeses online.
Currently, wholesale milk is probably their biggest seller, Aubrey said. The milk is pasteurized but not homogenized, and they offer white and chocolate milk as an old-fashioned “cream-line milk” — meaning the cream still rises to the top.
“Demand for our cheese is actually picking up a lot,” Aubrey said, adding they’ve been selling their fresh and aged cheeses to restaurants and resorts.
“Selling to chefs is a whole different ball game,” she said with a laugh.
Despite the booming business, it hasn’t all been easy.
They’ve had to work with the Missouri State Milk Board to make sure everything is done by the book. Edgewood Creamery does not yet have a warehouse so buying bottles has been another speed bump as companies want to sell them by the truckload.
They don’t let any of those bumps in the road deter them, however.
Aubrey said they welcome others — producers and consumers alike — to come see the operation.
“We need some diversity in the area,” she said, explaining running a creamery is “not for everyone as it’s a lot of work” but dairy farmers in the area may find it is a great option to add value to their product.
She said they also are really trying to educate consumers through social media and the Internet as well as offering tours where they can see the process of producing dairy products.
Part of the success of the family business is attributed to communication.
“We keep communication open,” Aubrey said. “We take care of problems right away.
“It’s really great to be able to work with family,” she continued. “My favorite part is working with family.”
For more information, visit www.EdgewoodCreamery.com or check them out on Facebook. £