Laurel Valley Creamery: Winning Back the Family Dairy Farm
A 4th generation dairy farm, Nick and Celeste Nolan are living on over 100 acres on what used to be Nick’s grandfather’s farm near Gallipolis, Ohio. Like many kids raised on the farm, Nick headed off to college not planning to return. He became a food engineer, hired by General Mills to identify the processing requirements and packaging specifications for marketing food products to the general public. But the land called and 15 years ago they returned to the farm to run a permaculture operation with emphasis on sustainability.
They started with a larger dairy herd than they have now, supplying their milk to the regional dairy conglomerate. Over a few years they determined that there was no way a small farm could stay financially viable when the commodities market was actually setting the value of their product months after it had been delivered. As Nick watched manysmall family farms in his area fold, he was determined that they would be successful. It meant they had to rethink how they could produce the most income from the fewest number of cows, permitting the work requirement to be handled without the additional cost of a lot of hired help.
Celeste had already dabbled with making cheese and friends and family who tasted it gave encouragement to expand it into a commercial venture. So Celeste became the Head Cheesemaker and Nick calls himself the Head Entremanure, a play on the term entrepeneur and the medium he is often stepping in.
Careful selection of the breed of cow, the way they are raised from the time they are calved until they can join the herd in the pasture, the pasture rotation to maximize the nutrition available, and the kind of supplemental feed used all plays a part in how much milk is produced.
Nick’s day starts early and ends late as he milks 17 of his 35-head herd twice a day. Rotating the cows into the dairy barn four at a time, using milking equipment from the 1960s, takes a couple of hours from start to finish.
The cows produce 1500 pounds of milk every 3 days which Celeste turns into about 175 pounds of cheese. Between milkings, Nick repairs equipment and structures, supervises Nicole who is in charge of the pork production on the farm, trains their son Edgar on how to raise the calves into heifers, and transports the milk to the cheese room.
Celeste produces cheese from raw milk as well as homogenized milk and some are set aside for aging in another climate- controlled storage area. Her cheese making days take 12-15 hours, and she uses whatever breaks are in the process to cook meals, do laundry, pay attention to her children-all those normal household tasks that need to be done. A full day of work that starts before 9a.m. and ends after midnight is typical for both of them.
Those of us who have already been enjoying the Laurel Valley Creamery cheese know that this cheese is excellent. Soon, when the Wild Ramp opens, everyone will be able to enjoy. Soon, very very soon!!
- 930 Laurel Road
- Gallipolis, Ohio 45631