Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ethel Jensen: Wonder Woman

Breaking news of the day: I have discovered that Wisconsin's newest dairy artisan, Ethel Jensen, is actually Wonder Woman.

Okay, so she doesn't actually wear the super cool red, white and blue outfit or boast bullet-deflecting bracelets, but she does make amazing cheese. She also milks five cows and 84 goats every day, will soon start milking 40 sheep, will open an on-farm retail store before the end of the year, grows her own wheat for her own bread that she makes in her own on-farm commercial kitchen, and has plans to build an on-farm cheesrie next year.

Whew. I'm tired just writing about it.

Ethel and her husband, Jim, and their extended family - 10 kids & multiple grandchildren -- hosted an educational field day at their farm near Mt. Horeb on Saturday. About 75 people showed up, many of them young and aspiring farmers, entrepreneurs, and even five UW Madison veterinary school students -- all wanting to know more about how Ethel manages to do everything she does.

Ethel compares herself to the tortoise in Aesop's Fable: The Tortoise & the Hare . "It's taken me 10 years to go through the process of earning my farmstead cheesemaking license. I've seen a lot of people come and go, and many of them are making some amazing cheeses. I hope it's my time now to get going."

Ethel first started experimenting with making cheeses 30 years ago on her stove top to feed to her family. Today, she's using nearby cheesemaking plants to produce fresh goat's milk chevre in plain, dill and caraway, has just started making a goat's milk farmer cheese, and is currently aging some mixed milk cheeses with high hopes of success. She hasn't yet designed a label, but is thinking the name of her farm - Gronndal Springs -- will likely be part of her brand.

And while I was first under the impression that Ethel lives on a winding road in the middle of nowhere, it turns out she lives on one of the busiest commuter county highways in the state. From 5 to 7 a.m., she says a line of traffic passes her house continuously, and many commuters have asked if she plans to open her on-farm store as early as 5 a.m. so they can stop and buy fresh, home-made donuts to take to work.

Fear not: she's working diligently to make it happen.

"I've really only ever needed four hours of sleep, so I usually sleep from 1o p.m. to 2 a.m., and then start milking at 2:30 a.m. First the cows, then the goats and then the sheep. Then it's off to the bakery to get the bread and donuts done for the day. Then I get the kids off to school."

So by 8 a.m., she's already got a six-hour day in. Sounds like Wonder Woman to me!

No comments: