Stickney Hill Farms Gears Up Production With New Facility
Glen Wood suits up to show off his new $12 million, state-of-the-art cheese manufacturing plant in Rockville.
The label says Stickney Hill Dairy, but the goats, who at one time were the local supplier, no longer hang around waiting to be called into duty.
Started in 1999 as a farmstead site in Rockville, Minnesota, with a cheese-making plant and a pasture of goats, the brand eliminated the “dairy” from its
business plan years ago, but not its name.
“In 2003, the decision was made to go away from raising goats,” and concentrate on cheese production, says Glen Wood, who was hired a year-and-a-half ago to be the general manager and to oversee the construction of a state-of-the-art cheese-manufacturing facility. While he’s been in the dairy business for 20 years, this is his first “goat experience,” Wood says, and he’s become a huge fan.
What was once a small business in Rockville off County Road 48 has grown significantly in the past year, thanks to a $12 million capital investment. And with their new capabilities, Stickney Hill Dairy wants to add more production as well as new products, with an eye to becoming a national player in the goat cheese industry. They currently make plain and flavored chevre and feta, plus whole goat milk powder (whey protein). A grass-fed product, as well as a hard gouda, are the next offerings coming to the line, Wood says. The cheese is sold in grocery stores such as Lunds & Byerlys, and to chefs, such as those in the Twin Cities, who like to work with a local product.
But being local wasn't enough. The ownership studied the market and the players, and saw the time was ripe to start growing a larger operation, according to Wood. In addition to their own products, they have started some private labeling in Florida and are getting ready to launch in New York, Wood says.
They broke ground on the 20,000-square-foot facility in November 2015. “From shovel to cheese took almost a year,” Wood says. About 20 people work in the facility, counting sales and front office, and there’s room to grow.
Milk is purchased from local goat farmers and trucked to the plant four times a week to fill four 10,000-gallon silos. The milk is processed no later than 24 hours after it’s received, and more along the lines of 17 hours, Wood says. The milk is then pasteurized and the whey separated from the curds.
The HVAC system has to be up to the job of keeping everything sterile, and they’ve gone the extra steps to ensure the airflow is pure, including four to five air changes an hour.
“They bought French technology,” Wood says about the equipment because the French know how to make goat cheese and Stickney Hill owners saw no reason to reinvent the cheese wheel.
Chevre, French for “goat’s cheese,” is lower in fat than cow's milk, and because it’s missing the A1 protein, is easier to digest, which means lactose intolerant people can eat goat cheese.
At the time we visited in late July, the signage was still not up on the barn-red building. To take advantage of their location off a busy road, there are plans for a retail store in the works.
The manufacturing line wasn’t running when we toured the facility, but one lone worker was transferring curds from a steel tank into smaller carts. He was using a shovel—a special, sterilized shovel, we were told. Around the corner were bins of spices that are added to the chevre and a packaging and labeling assembly line.
Another space houses a testing lab, which is a crucial step to ensure they keep their certification, Wood says, adding the plant is Level 3 certified in the goat industry, which, he points out, is a big deal.
In the lobby, a long wall of plaques gives testimony to the fact that the cheese tastes as good as it is certifiably healthy.
Wood was headed to a competition in Denver at the time, and had checked out the national Fancy Food Shows as opportunities to show off their products to the premium market. They're also in talks with “a big celebrity,” whose endorsement could make the rollout to nearby states easier—before tackling the rest of the country.