This podcast is brought to you by Balancing Act, Teach, Coach, Mentor, Inspire, a collection of candid observations on the challenges facing business leaders today. Balancing Act is authored by Dr. Andrew Temte and is available today on Amazon and other fine bookstores. On this episode, we’re chatting with Sarah Bekkum of the Nordic Creamery. We talk about cheese making, the intricacies of what makes cheese stand apart, and Sarah’s picks for us. You can find more conversation, food reviews, live music and events on our website, lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.
Brent Hanifl 00:40
And I’m Brent.
Amy Gabay 00:41
And this is La Crosse Local.
Sarah Bekkum 00:43
My name is Sarah Bekkum. I was born in Viroqua, Wisconsin, and I got into cheese making by marrying a cheese maker.
Brent Hanifl 00:52
So you just kind of stumbled into it, huh?
Sarah Bekkum 00:54
Kind of. Yeah, I’ve been a farm girl all my life. And this is kind of what happens when the farm girl marries the cheese maker.
Brent Hanifl 01:01
So what led to the creation of the Nordic Creamery?
Sarah Bekkum 01:05
Well, my husband had been in the dairy industry for years, been a cheese maker for years. He’d run a couple other plants and then he lost his job and decided he didn’t really want to work for anybody else anymore. So why not do our own thing? Why not start it? We actually built, or broke ground, before we even had financing secured and we just kind of flew for it was kind of interesting.
Brent Hanifl 01:30
I’ve had your cheese before down at the People’s Food Co Op. I’ve had it at big festivals like Beer, Wine and Cheese down at the Fest Grounds. How does your cheese stand apart?
Sarah Bekkum 01:40
Well, our cheese is handcrafted. I mean it’s a totally hands on production. We don’t have any automatic computerized equipment, like the old fashioned way to make it. And all our producers are small family farms, like our cow farms don’t have more than 40 cows on a farm. And then we also have goat and sheep producers. So all small family farms.
Brent Hanifl 02:01
Grass fed is, you know, a keyword I hear a lot. Are they grass fed cheeses as well?
Sarah Bekkum 02:05
Yeah, definitely in the summertime, everything’s grass fed. Yep.
Brent Hanifl 02:08
Based on the season does it kind of like transform different tastes? Would a cheese, I guess a standard one, do the flavor profiles change throughout the year?
Sarah Bekkum 02:17
It does. But I mean, it’s pretty subtle, pretty hard to tell. This time of year when the cows are just out eating a lot of grass, though, you can tell they’re eating so much grass, when you’re making the cheese in the VAT, it is so yellow. I mean, color from the grass comes through and then they’ve got you know all this wonderful fat in there. And so a lot of times the fat will rise to the top. It’s just a wonderful time of year right now.
Brent Hanifl 02:39
You know, I never think about that in terms of with cows and cheeses. I guess I always think about it with bees. Bees, if they’re next to a lavender plant or various other plants around them really affects how the honey tastes.
Sarah Bekkum 02:52
Yeah, cows, definitely what they’re eating has a lot to do with it. Especially like in the middle of winter when everything’s kind of like evened out. And you could always tell when your farmer opens maybe like a new stylish bag or something, you know, the whole components of the mill changes a little bit.
Brent Hanifl 03:05
So what are some of your favorite cheeses and you know, even butters that you guys have?
Sarah Bekkum 03:09
One probably closest to our heart is what we call a Capri Goat. Its a cheese my husband invented. It’s a cow milk and goat milk blended together. So when we first started, you know, we started 13 years ago and 14 years ago, when we first started, a lot of people were like goat milk or goat cheese, they just didn’t really want to try it. You know, they have some bad experience with a previous goat cheese or something. So we kind of developed this as like a gateway cheese kind of almost. You know, it has a little bit of the cow flavor, but it kind of finishes with a little bit of that goat flavor. And it won a bunch of awards for us right away from the get go. So it’s kind of dear to our hearts that way. But I my new favorite cheese is we’re making a cheese made out of 100% A2 milk. So for people that don’t understand what that is cows produce the protein, either A1 or A2, or even a combination of them. So you can check the cow and see what protein she’s producing. And they’ve proven that if you’re only using the A2 milk, it’s a lot easier for people to digest.
Brent Hanifl 04:07
That’s interesting. I talked to John Holthaus over at Milk Haus Dairy and he kind of talks about how they produce that milk as well.
Sarah Bekkum 04:13
Yeah, it’s kind of a new thing. It’s really taken off and we’ve gotten such nice reviews from some of our customers. I mean, it’s just life changing for some people.
Brent Hanifl 04:20
And going back to the goats now. So was this cheese you know, this mix of goat milk and cow milk? Was this something that was done before?
Sarah Bekkum 04:30
Not a lot, I don’t think but then it just, you know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Not really.
Brent Hanifl 04:37
Well, I’d like to try that because I, you know, I’ve been growing into goat cheeses. Some are kind of more mild and some are a little bit it’s almost like you’re eating the actual goat but you know, I’ve really enjoyed kind of exploring those.
Sarah Bekkum 04:48
Some are just so like, barn-yardy that people are, you know, some people love that though but a lot of people don’t.
Brent Hanifl 04:56
A tough question. You know, this last year has probably been tougher businesses tougher into visuals of the pandemic, how has it affected your business? Is there any light to it, or?
Sarah Bekkum 05:04
Yeah, I mean, when it first started, it was initially terrifying. I mean, you know, our distributors, that had orders called and said when we’re not picking them up, you know. So they’re sitting in the cooler waiting to go and now they’re not picking them up. And but then everything kind of revolved, I mean because we had a lot of food service and restaurants we dealt with. But then they kind of changed into full, a lot of our stuff funneled into more grocery stores, you know, so we kind of kept rolling that way. And then we ship anywhere in the US, too, see if people can order up our website. And so we worked with a local shipper. So for Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, if you spend $30, we’ll ship to you for free. So that kind of really took off for us too. And nobody wanted to go anywhere then. So we just shipped everything everywhere.
Brent Hanifl 05:46
Well it’s nice to see, you know, adaptation for businesses finding a different market, or maybe even making one a little bit stronger, like the online sales. So what’s coming up for the creamery? Any exciting news?
Sarah Bekkum 05:57
Well, we just opened our new store in Westby. We were gonna open it last year, but with everything going on, we kind of just put it on hold for a year. So we open that. It’s right on the south edge of town right on Highway 14. And we’re working on getting our petting zoo built. So this sometime this summer, we’ll open up our petting zoo. We’re gonna have some farm games and just be a nice place to bring your family.
Brent Hanifl 06:17
Man petting zoo. That’s a good thing. I’d like to bring my family on and do that, so.
Sarah Bekkum 06:22
We’re located right at the edge of the bike trail, a little bike trail that goes between Westby and Rockwell, so you can park your car and go for a bike ride and come back and have an ice cream cone.
Brent Hanifl 06:30
So if people want to find out more, what’s the best avenue for them to check out?
Sarah Bekkum 06:33
They can just look us up on Facebook Nordic Creamery or just go to our website nordiccreamery.com.
Brent Hanifl 06:38
Alright, one last question. If someone who maybe it’s a cheese that’s maybe a little different, maybe for more of the experience palate, what’s a good intro cheese for that that you have?
Sarah Bekkum 06:48
Oh, maybe our Grumpy Goat. It’s probably our most popular cheese. It’s a goat cheese, goat cheddar, but we aged it a little bit so you get a little bit of that tanginess from getting age and a little bit of tanginess from being a goat cheese. It’s really delicious.
Amy Gabay 07:06
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About La Crosse Local
La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.
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