Dakota Farmer

South Dakota couple’s cheesemaking and milk bottling add value to farm.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

April 26, 2021

5 Min Read
Jonah Blase bottles some chocolate milk at the Farm Life Creamery under the watchful eye of Laura Klock.
NOW THAT’S FRESH: Jonah Blase bottles some chocolate milk at the Farm Life Creamery under the watchful eye of Laura Klock. With the herd source just down the road from the creamery, Chad Blase says a customer may get some milk that had been in the cow only 12 hours prior. “You don’t get that [freshness] very often,” he says.Photos by Kevin Schulz

The idea for Farm Life Creamery near Ethan, S.D., began as a way to pump new life into an existing dairy farm, but Laura Klock also sees it as a way to educate the public about agriculture.

Laura with Chad Blase began artisan cheese production at the end of 2018, after learning the trade and buying out Valley Side Farm Cheese LLC from Kris and Scott Swanson near Crooks, S.D.

In addition to acquiring the Swansons’ cheese recipes, Laura and Chad purchased cheesemaking equipment from them, which was a major step in Farm Life Creamery becoming a reality.

Chad grew up milking cows, and his parents, Gary and Amy Blase, continue to milk registered Holsteins just 3.5 miles down the road from the creamery. The creamery gets its Grade A milk supply from the Blase dairy, with the farm’s surplus milk sold to Associated Milk Producers Inc.

Laura and Chad envision that their creamery’s growth will intersect with the downsizing of the elder Blases’ dairy herd, getting to the point when the entire herd’s production will be turned into artisan cheeses and bottled milk at the creamery.

The Blases currently milk about 100 cows using two robotic milkers, down from about 200 at the family’s peak.

Building a dream

Farm Life Creamery is a reality of a dream Amy had at one time. Chad says his family frequently batted around the idea of some venture that would add value to the farm’s milk.

“We all kind of saw the writing on the wall,” he says. “Probably 15 years ago we saw that things were starting to change, whether we wanted them to or not. We thought we would be able to get through it by just milking cows, but what it came down to in probably the last five, six years, is it’s very difficult to make a living.”

Chad Blase and Laura Klock

The creamery dream resurfaced when Chad and Laura started seeing each other, and the Blase family dairy was still at the crossroads of get out or add to what the dairy could offer. Chad brings the dairy background, and Laura brings business and marketing skills from her ownership and marketing of Klock Werks, a custom motor sports shop in nearby Mitchell, S.D.

Laura has “skills that have been extremely beneficial to us,” Chad says. “She’s doing so many things that would have cost us thousands of dollars to hire someone to do for us.”

Testing business plan

Most business startups hit some hiccups, and Farm Life Creamery has had to overcome flooding in 2019 that delayed processing at the current location, only to be followed up with the slowdown of business brought on by COVID-19.

Laura and Chad were able to start manufacturing cheese in their facility in October 2019.

Laura, a Wisconsin native, relied on her business sense to decide that the fledgling creamery had to offer what competitors weren’t. She saw a void of cheese curds. She tells of how County Fair Foods in Mitchell “allowed us to come in to give samples and sell cheese curds.”

Laura was told the grocery store normally sold five curd packages a week, “and one Wednesday, we sold 300 packages of our cheese curds. They are one of our better customers.”

Farm Life offers more than 40 flavors of cheese curds, which make up about 70% of the creamery’s sales. In addition to various flavored curds, they produce 8-ounce cheese blocks. “Not all flavors of cheese curds translate well into the blocks,” she says. “Some of the seasonings don’t let the curds mesh together” to form a block.

That doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying new flavors to mix in with their current offerings such as Sassy Sesame, Five Pepper, Chocolate Cheddar, Bloody Mary or Dill. One of their recent achievements is recreating Cotswold, a British pub cheese that ages a minimum of three months, and one that Chad requested as a cheese he had tried years ago.

In addition to Kris Swanson’s cheesemaking knowledge and her processing equipment, Laura and Chad acquired molds for making Gruyere, as well as the inventory of the wheel cheese. Gruyere ages for a minimum of four months, and they now have some wheels of cheddar in the “cheese cave” inventory that has been stored for eight years.

Farm Life Creamery cheeses can be found in about 20 retail locations in South Dakota and Nebraska, and can be shipped anywhere.

Fluid business

After close to a year delay in the schedule of their business plan, Laura and Chad, along with his son, Jonah, started bottling fluid milk at Farm Life Creamery in late-March. They now offer 16-ounce, 64-ounce and 96-ounce bottles of white and chocolate whole milk that is pasteurized, but not homogenized.

Holstein cows on the Gary and Amy Blase farm

Regardless if they’re talking about their numerous cheese flavors or the bottled milk, Chad sees the importance of a quality product, starting with using Grade A milk. Cheese can be made from Grade B or even manufacturers grade milk, but “Grade A milk is a selling point. It’s one of those little things that isn’t so little; you’re starting with a superior ingredient,” he says.

Soon Farm Life Creamery milk will be found in stores, but it can be purchased at their on-farm store in the meantime.

Full-farm experience

Not only do they want to fill people’s stomachs, but the Farm Life team hopes to soon fill people’s minds. Visitors looking to buy dairy products on-farm will be greeted to the farm by Rex, a 3-year-old St. Bernard, but he is only part of the menagerie the couple has accumulated. Other animals include a llama, pony, pigs, donkey, goats, chickens, duck and Laura’s prized horse. All of this to satisfy their vision to educate people about agriculture and where their food originates.

Visit Larua and Chad's Farm Life Creamery website or their Facebook page.


About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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