KALISPELL, Mont. – June is Dairy Month, and in the Flathead Valley, Kalispell Kreamery and Hedstrom Dairy are unique in their concept - combining an old fashioned dairy farm, a creamery with a distinctive modern edge, a new beef business, which was established to help with COVID-19 beef shortages, and a store for dairy products.
“Our motto here is keeping our milk as close to raw as we can get and making our dairy products with as few ingredients as possible, all while keeping our products minimally processed,” said Mary Tuck, who operates Kalispell Kreamery with her husband, Jared.
Her parents, Marilyn and Bill Hedstrom, manage the dairy and have been doing so since the 1970s.
With mountains towering over the cluster of buildings, the dairy farm is composed of two free-style barns with around 300 Holstein milking cows, green pastures for the dry cows, calving barns, the creamery and store, the dairy, and many storage huts and small buildings needed to run a farm.
History dates back decades
Hedstrom Dairy has an innovative history in the region, starting out with a chicken hatchery on the farm to support their growing family.
“In the 1970s, my Dad bought a cow named Heidi to feed his family of six. He liked cows so much, so he bought another cow,” Tuck said.
Bill continued buying cows, and within a short time, he had the makings of a dairy. Bill sold the hatchery and Hedstrom Dairy began.
There were many dairies in the area at the time. For decades, milking companies would pick up milk from each dairy in a timely fashion.
But low prices drove dairies out of business and there came a time when Hedstrom Dairy was the last dairy in the Flathead Valley.
“About 10 years ago, my husband, Jared, was coming out of the military, and we were in the place of transitioning, deciding what we wanted to do,” she said.
At the same time, the Tucks were looking at the reality of the dairy business. The small milking truck companies had been bought up by large milk companies, which didn’t want to pick up milk from just one dairy.
“We wanted to save the family farm, so we wondered if we should take a risk and change the model of the dairy,” she said. “That way we could be in control of our own dairy business and move on to the next stage of our lives.”
The Tucks realized it would not be an easy venture, but they wanted to stay true to the high-quality milk that had been the backbone of Hedstrom Dairy.
Developing a new concept
The Hedstroms and Tucks were at a restaurant for dinner when the concept took hold.
“We didn’t have any paper to write on, so we literally drew out our plans for a dairy and a creamery on a napkin,” she said, with a smile.
They wanted to keep the old-fashioned milk with cream-on-the-top as the mainstay product that families loved for generations – and expand on that. Their slogan became ‘Moo to You,’ a farm-to-table concept.
“My folks worked really hard during those years, and we wanted to keep the dairy strong,” Tuck said. “We were all excited. We knew there would be challenges ahead, but we were ready.”
It turned out to be the start of a hometown dairy/creamery/farm that both met the needs of its families in the area, readjusted to meet changes in the product line, and one that spread out as it grew to distribute its high quality products around the state.
They built the creamery, always keeping tabs on what dairy products consumers wanted, both in the community and around the state.
A state certified and inspected creamery, Kalispell Kreamery grew to be a success.
“When we milk our cows, we cool and pipe the milk from the dairy right next door into the creamery, so we don’t have to haul our milk anywhere,” she said. “It helps with the quality of the milk because it is so fresh.”
A vertically integrated business
Kalispell Kreamery and the dairy farm complex are a vertically integrated business with 22 employees on different schedules.
“We do everything – from the raw product to distribution – it is all done here,” Tuck said. “We don’t outsource anything.”
They have two different crews in the morning, one that heads to the milking free stall barns and another that heads to the creamery, the store and the beef company.
“Our driver, who delivers our milk and other dairy products, arrives at 4:30 a.m., and he is the first to arrive. Then our pasteurizer shows up and starts working,” she said.
They do not homogenize their milk. According to Tuck, homogenizing does nothing to help the safety of the milk.
Kalispell Kreamery allows the cream to stay whole and rise to the top, which helps make the milk delicious and as close to natural as possible.
The family’s Holstein milking cows give 3.5 percent cream for every gallon of milk.
The Hedstroms continue to manage the dairy. At both 6 a.m. and p.m., crews show up to milk cows. The morning milking crew leaves at about 10 a.m., and a second crew milks until 10 p.m.
Making all of their own delicious products
The creamery crew walks in the doors of Kalispell Kreamery and will start with bottling milk from the night before.
Throughout their day, the Kreamery employees make the “yummy” dairy products and package the milk and yogurt into small and large bottles. For the ice cream, they package it into brightly-colored striped packages, all with the distinct Kalispell Kreamery label.
“We have a pretty good lineup for a small dairy,” Tuck said.
They sell gallons, half gallons, quarts and pints of cream-on-the-top whole milk, reduced fat (1-2 percent) milk, skim milk, heavy whip, half-and-half and chocolate milk.
“We made up our own recipe for chocolate milk,” she said. “It is just cocoa powder, sugar and milk.”
Making yogurt is a two-day process. Some 300 gallons of milk flow into one of three vats that make the yogurt.
The yogurt is blended into small bottles of plain yogurt and an added honey yogurt, with all simple ingredients.
The crew even makes a cold brew with cream in it, as a specialty summer product.
About a year ago, they started making vanilla and chocolate ice cream.
“Customers wanted us to make ice cream as our next milk product. We bought an ice cream making machine, and started testing our own mix and that led to full production,” she said.
Since the demand for ice cream has increased, they are starting to sell it to stores across the state.
Distributing their products beyond their community meant more products needed to be made and packaged.
“It is all about timing, spreading things out, and using space timely,” Tuck said. “We'll make different products on different days.”
Their milk is trucked in cooling trucks by distributors to other parts of the state.
“Food service, grocery stores, and restaurants are on our milk distribution list and the colleges use a lot of our yogurt, too,” she said.
Families purchase some dairy products more during certain seasons.
“During holidays, our cream sells very well, and during the summer, we see an increase in our milk sales,” she said. “Our ice cream has been selling well, too.”
In the dairy part of the business, the dry cows are out grazing on some nice pastures on the farm this summer. The milking cows are fed barley hay.
Supporting the community
“We wanted to support the community, so we buy all our hay barley and feed supplements from the community,” Tuck said.
The mother cows calve all year long.
“We have about five calves a week. They stay with their mom for 12-24 hours before the mom has to go to work and the calves are bottle-fed and get special attention in our baby calf section,” she said.
The Hedstroms and Tucks do have visitors and they had a milk-and-cookie day, up until this year with COVID-19. But they hope to be back next year.
The community and visitors can come to the farm store, and Tuck encourages folks to buy Kalispell Kreamery dairy products at their local grocery store so they don’t have to drive way out into the rural area just for milk and other products.
“We do get people who want to come out and see the dairy, and I will show them where their food comes from. We get large groups, organizations, tours and small family groups,” Tuck concluded.