“Say Cheese”

Posted December 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm

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Editors note: The following article is printed with permission from the Dairy Star magazine. Kris Swanson is the daughter of Jim and Darlene Bloch of Westbrook.

By Jerry Nelson

Dairy Star staff writer

CROOKS, S.D.– Farmers typically expand their operations by adding more land or by increasing their livestock numbers. But Kris and Scott Swanson are anything but typical. At middle age, the couple decided to expand their operation by going into the cheese making business.

“This farm was homesteaded in 1873 by my great-great-great grandfather Gunder Gunderson,” said Scott. “Our kids are the seventh generation of our family to farm this land.”

The Swansons farm about 1,500 acres and have three children: Olivia (23), who is married to Ethan Amundson and is majoring in animal science at SDSU; Levi (22), a general ag student at SDSU; and Lane (19), who is studying diesel mechanics at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown.

In addition to their cropping operation, the Swansons have about 200 head of beef cattle and custom feed dairy heifers for nearby Boadwine Dairy. Until recently, that was the extent of their involvement with the dairy industry.

“I grew up on a small dairy farm at Westbrook, Minn.,” said Kris. “Dad milked about 30 head. And when I was in high school, I was the Cottonwood County Dairy Princess.”

After high school, Kris became a Registered Nurse. She then worked for many years in the nursing home industry.

The seed for the Swansons’ cheese making venture was planted some time ago by a neighbor who owns a winery.

“We farm some land next to Strawbale Winery,” said Scott. “A couple of years ago its owner, Don South, began to ask when we were going to start making cheese that he could sell at his winery. I thought he was joking.”

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Kris. “I have always been interested in making cheese. Levi wants to join the operation, but it’s hard to find additional land to farm. We realized that starting a cheese making business was a way to help make room for the next generation.”

Kris and Scott took a long, hard look at cheese making before taking the plunge.

“We prayed over it and talked about it for a quite a while,” said Kris. “Making cheese was pretty much my idea, but Scott has been 100 percent supportive.”

They sought advice from a cheese maker friend in Texas and visited his operation. Later, the Swansons attended a week-long farmstead cheese making school in Burlington, Vermont.

“The cheese making school was more about chemistry than anything else,” said Scott. “I didn’t even take chemistry in high school, so it was quite an education for me.”

The Swansons next contacted state inspection officials.

“We wanted to make certain that we were in compliance with all regulations,” said Kris. “The inspectors were very helpful and gave us a lot of good advice. This was especially true of Scott Schelske, who had once been a cheese maker himself.”

Permitting the new farmstead cheese operation at the Swanson farm was also a novel experience for inspection officers.

“The state inspectors told us that we were both their test case and their poster child,” said Scott. “We were the first farmstead bovine cheese operation they had permitted. We are extremely grateful for all their help and guidance.”

A 1930s-era machine shed that had been previously updated and insulated was chosen as the site for their cheese making facility. A small addition to house their cheese making equipment was built onto one side. A cheese vat was then purchased from a seller in Holland and installed in their new cheese room.