It had been about a year since I'd had the chance to tour the Crave Brothers farm and cheese plant with George and Debbie Crave and yesterday was my first chance to get an up close and personal tour of their expanding operation. (I'm taking a five-day "Pasture to Plate - the World of Cheese" course at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, and yesterday was tour day for us participants).
Today, the Craves farm 1,700 acres, milk 1,050 cows, raise another 2,000 head of young stock on the farm, and turn 2/3 of all the milk they produce into amazingly-good farmstead cheese. Milk is pumped from the milking parlor through a 350-foot underground stainless steel pipe into the cheese factory every day.
Out of 30 million pounds of milk produced this year on the farm, Cheesemaker George Crave and his crew of 45 employees will turn 20 million pounds of it into Mascarpone, Fresh Mozzarella, Farmer's Rope String Cheese, Les Freres and Petit Frere. They are also in the process of developing new products, which may include an Italian-style ricotta and pizza cheese.
The Craves recently expanded the plant again -- this time adding a 20,000 sq. ft. addition to streamline and expand cheese operation. The plant also features a beautiful underground culinary kitchen and entertaining room, where family chef Beth Crave prepares amazing dishes using Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese.
George jokes that the farmstead cheese plant is the result of a mid-life crisis. The Crave Brothers family had been dairying in the area since the late 70s when they decided to build a cheese plant on the farm in 2001.
"Some guys get a girlfriend, some buy a race car, others take a European vacation. I built a cheese factory instead," George said with a smile. "I went to my 30-year high school class reunion just recently and the first thing I see is a classmate rolling up in a new red sports car. Then another guy strolls in with a new trophy wife. And everybody is talking about their latest and greatest world-travel adventures. I said -- 'Hey, I've got one better than all of you - you oughta see my separator.' (insert ba-ba-bing here). "
After Debbie (who I would argue is already a trophy wife - she and George have been married 27 years and she looks younger than I do) nudges him and tells him to give a serious answer as to why a farm family would go to all the work of building a cheese plant, George says the brothers spent 1-1/2 years researching ways the family could add value to the operation and give the next generation an opportunity to be involved if they so choose. "It made the most sense to add cheesemaking to the farm, plain and simple," George says.
Today, the Craves have won dozens of awards for their cheeses, including medals at the World Cheese Awards in London, the American Cheese Society Competition in the United States, as well as the U.S. Cheese Championship held every other year. Most importantly, they make REALLY GOOD cheese.
I'd highly recommend their Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Chocolate Mascarpone Pie, a signature recipe developed back in the beginning by Debbie. Enjoy!
1 cup chocolate wafer cookie crumbs
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted, plus more for pan
Filling: 16 oz. Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Mascarpone
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
2 Tbsp. Kahlua or Amaretto
For the crust: (if you're like me, I'd just buy an Oreo cookie crust, but for you purists out there, here are the directions): preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pan. Stir cookie crumbs, sugar and melted butter together. Press crumbs evening in the pan. Bake six minutes. Set aside to cool.
For the filling: stir the mascarpone and melted chocolate together until blended and no white streaks remain. Stir in the Kahula or Amaretto. Immediately spread into the cooled crust. Cover and refrigerate one hour. Serve with whipped cream. Serves 8.