At a time when COVID-19 makes it hard to nurture important consumer relationships, a northeast Ohio creamery managed to fill that void and create a unique experience by connecting with high school students through Zoom.
Minerva Dairy, which claims to be America’s oldest family-owned creamery, provided a virtual field trip for Minerva High School junior and senior FFA students. It was the equivalent to Butter-making 101, says Venae Watts, who with her brother Adam Mueller are the fifth generation at the helm of the creamery.
“The idea is we wanted to offer a fun and educational experience to students while remaining safe during the coronavirus pandemic,” Watts says. “The students were very attentive and interested.”
Mueller conducted the educational part of the tour, while talking students through the process with the churn as a backdrop.
They asked questions like, “How much do we make a day? How much is in the churn? How long does it take and how does cream turn into butter,” Watts says. “They really absorbed information they were given, and it allowed us to explain the unique challenges and joys of running this creamery, which makes butter and cheese, and sends products across the whole country.”
Watts, who sits on the local FFA board, says the FFA teacher, Kyle Lucas, wanted to spark some interest and provide education that had done with in-person field trips before the pandemic. “In the digital age, Zoom helped fill that need. It’s important for everyone to know where their food comes from, who makes it, and how it’s made. I was encouraged that some of the students may want to go into the industry themselves or start a business of their own.”
Minerva Dairy has plans for additional meetings in the future with other students from different schools and universities.
About the creamery
The creamery was founded in 1894 by Max Radloff, in Hustisford, Wis. Over the next half-century, Radloff and his family created a network of 26 farms and multiple farmers for sourcing their cream. “At that time everyone was making cheese and butter on the farm,” Watts says. “Rather than each making individual batches and trying to sell product, my great-great-grandfather pulled together family and neighbors to come together as a group.”
As cooling systems and transportation advanced, locations were consolidated, and today the single Minerva location remains, sourcing milk from 75 farmers raising cows on pasture.
“Minerva is the perfect location, being at the center of three different counties, and we’re able to work with small and multigenerational farmers that we have strong relationships with,” Watts says.
Minerva Dairy, established in 1935, now produces 20 million pounds of cheese and butter annually and has about 80 employees.
High butterfat content
The company is known for its slow-churning process and its 85% butterfat in its butter, which creates a creamier, richer, more-flavorful product than using a high-speed churn, according to Watts, who notes that the standard for butter if 80% butterfat. “If you’re a baker, that’s less moisture in your butter and that 5% really makes a different, just like it does in ice cream.”
Celebrating 125 years of operation in 2020, the creamery recently expanded capacity, and is working to expand marketing and sales to fit production capabilities.
The cheese — cheddar, Romano, parmesan, mozzarella — is sold as an ingredient to food manufacturers. However, the butter is sold online and through retail grocery stores, most recently being picked up by Target as an outlet for the company’s new 1-pound roll of Minerva butter.
Minerva’s 1-pound roll can also be found in a handful of other retail chains, including Jewel-Osco, Piggly Wiggly, Meijer and Lowes Foods. Previously, the smallest roll was 2 pounds.
“We’re so thrilled that Target shoppers can now experience our hand-rolled, better butter and rediscover what real butter tastes like,” Watts says. “We’ll be introducing the 1-pound roll of Minerva Sea Salt Butter as part of Target’s premium butter set in the Midwest.”
The launch is part of a rebranding. “The interest in butter is coming back, and we offer everything the consumer is looking for — we have been for years. We are making the kind of butter that’s good for you.”
For more information about Minerva Dairy and its products, visit minervadairy.com.