The Small-Scale Cheese Business: The Complete Guide to Running a Successful Farmstead Creamery

Reviewed by Sanne Kure-Jensen

If you have dairy animals and are thinking about starting a cheese operation, do your homework first. “The Small-Scale Cheese Business” offers a thorough roadmap for would-be cheesemakers and Caldwell shares her own experience as well as stories from other cheesemakers. The book will be helpful to beginning and established small and hobby-farm livestock owners and is an excellent guide for anyone wanting to improve his or her dairy practices and upgrade their on-farm cheesemaking infrastructure.

Before making a significant financial investment in equipment and other infrastructure, be sure to review Caldwell’s guidelines for setting up a cheesemaking operation. Learn about forming a business, creating infrastructure and selling your finished products.

Caldwell’s book opens with two simple questions:

Do you love rising early and working long days, day after day?

Do you love washing dishes over and over again?

If you and your partner or family are prepared for lots of labor, periodic stresses and financial challenge, then you may have what it takes to run a cheesemaking operation.

Caldwell’s book guides prospective cheesemakers through a market analysis to discover future customers, how to reach them and at what cost. Readers can learn the many elements of a budget, complete business plan and potential sources of start-up and operating capital. Caldwell discusses the need for “food insurance”, also known as product liability insurance. She guides readers through considerations for health and auto insurance. Caldwell explained that when entering into a business with one or more partners, life insurance is an important consideration if the business is to go on without a key partner. Partnership agreements should also have an exit plan that allows one partner to leave the business, without a serious illness or death.

Finding good help is hard. Keeping and managing employees offers its own challenges. Caldwell discusses pay rates, job classifications and applicable labor laws.

“The Small-Scale Cheese Business” helps readers design a creamery. Caldwell briefly covers dairy management and the importance of starting with high quality milk. She thoroughly discusses equipment needs as well as lay out considerations for the milking parlor, milkhouse and makeroom. Aging rooms must have good temperature humidity and air exchange systems. Aging rooms may be belowground cellars or “caves,” repurposed refrigerator truck beds or walk-in coolers. Caldwell discusses shelf systems and ways to save money with used equipment.

Caldwell reviews design considerations for accessory spaces including an office, packaging room, tasting room, laundry room and bathroom.

Using Caldwell’s guidelines, readers can calculate their water needs, explores different types of heating systems and wastewater handling options. Efficiency is critical to any business; Caldwell advises readers to purchase the right sized equipment for peak efficiency in energy use as well as upfront and operating cost.

Details on planning, daily chores as well as food safety requirements and liabilities help a new cheesemaker ensure customer safety and operational efficiency. Caldwell discusses Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plans and the need to develop a plan, set up regular monitoring and verification, establish record keeping and follow through with action plans.

Recalls are any food manufacturers’ nightmare. Caldwell explains preventive steps and federally required traceability tools that can help minimize the impact of any recall, should there be a problem with a particular batch.
Agritourism, Agritainment and Open Houses bring additional customers and revenue to farm operations across the country. To bring in extra revenue, cheesemakers can offer public workshops or offer consulting and training to other cheesemakers.

Caldwell even has a chapter on how to manage runaway success – when cheesemakers need to buy in more milk than they can produce because of high customer demand. There is another chapter on how to re-energize when the honeymoon is over and everything about the business seems overwhelming.

An extensive Appendix lists sources for equipment, resources, training, associations and sample layout diagrams.

This book was originally published in 2010 as “The Farmstead Creamery Advisor.”

Learn about Gianaclis Caldwell at http://gianacliscaldwell.wordpress.com/ or facebook.com/pages/Gianaclis-Caldwell/409644159053571. Learn more about the author’s farm and cheesemaking operation at pholiafarm.com.