COUNTY AGENT GUY
Drive north through central Minnesota on Highway 71 and the road will take you through the tiny town of Belgrade. Perched at the edge of town, glaring ominously at the passing traffic, is the World’s Largest Crow.
It isn’t a real crow, of course. This 43-foot-tall monochrome corvid is made of fiberglass and is posed in such a way that you can’t tell if it’s ready to fly away or is about to hop off its perch and start pecking at your windshield in an effort to get at the Cheetos lying on your front seat.
I didn’t look very closely, but suspect that beneath that bird is the World’s Largest Sheet of Newspaper.
My wife and I recently journeyed to Stearns County to visit with the Jennissen family, who operate a 200-cow dairy near Brooten. Jerry Jennissen and his wife, Linda, and their daughter Alise Sjostrom and her husband, Lucas, added an on-farm cheese-making facility a couple of years ago.
Having been a dairy farmer, I know enough about the business to state unequivocally that running a dairy is akin to holding down several full-time jobs. You have to be a veterinarian, a nutritionist, a midwife, a mechanic and an all-around jack-of-all-trades.
It would also be extremely helpful if you were fluent in Holstein. Or Jersey, depending on your cow color preference.
Adding cheese making to this mix would be about like saying, “I’m only working 23 hours a day, seven days a week, so, yeah, I’ve got some time to spare. Bring it on.”
Alise is a bubbly young woman who sports a halo of flaming red locks. She is the chief cheese maker at the operation that has been named, fittingly, Redhead Creamery. I asked Alise how she got interested in the fromage field.
“I knew that I wanted to join my family’s dairy business when I was 10 years old,” she replied. “Mom and Dad were still milking in a tie stall barn at the time, so I also knew that I didn’t want to milk cows.
“Adding the creamery made it possible for my dreams to come true.”
I chatted with Jerry and Linda, who confirmed this story.
“Alise has been talking about doing something like this ever since she was a little girl,” said Jerry. “Once she sets her mind on something, she doesn’t give up.”
At the core of Redhead Creamery is a room filled with gleaming cheese-making equipment. Alise reports for duty at 4:30 a.m. on the day when she makes a batch of cheese. As Jerry milks the cows, their milk flows directly from the milking parlor into the creamery’s pasteurization tank.
Once it’s pasteurized, the milk is pumped to a vat where the mystical art of turning the while liquid into solid yumminess begins.
You just can’t get any fresher than that. But, as I pointed out to Alise, the final step in the cheese making process is aging.
“Yes,” she replied, “But our cheese curds are so fresh, they were silage and hay the day before.”
Redhead Creamery has a charming little country store where people can hang out, sample cheeses, enjoy a beverage and shop. You can tell it’s a classy store because they sell my book there.
Alise has fully embraced her red-headedness by offering for sale a whimsical tome titled “A Field Guide to Redheads,” written by Elizabeth Graeber, and published by Workman Publishing.
I know a few redheads and now know what they might be getting for Christmas.
A group of people arrived for a tour of the farm and the creamery. Jerry began the tour by giving a detailed history of their farm.
The only way it could have been more complete would have been if he had started his talk with the words, “At first there was nothing. Then there was a big bang.”
During his talk, Jerry mentioned meeting a certain girl, at age 13, while he was showing dairy cattle. That girl was none other than Linda.
I asked Linda how old she was when she and Jerry first met.
“I was nine at the time,” she replied, adding, “My parents didn’t let me start dating until I was 16.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I was beginning to detect a pattern regarding the Jennissen ladies setting goals at an early age and seeing them through to the end.
After a pleasant afternoon of sampling cheeses – including Redhead Creamery’s monstrously flavorful whiskey washed munster – it was time for my wife and I to head home.
And as we passed back through Belgrade I exclaimed to my wife, “Hit the gas. I think that crow has his eye on our cheese curds.”
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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