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Muranda Cheese Company: Looking to the Future with Value-Added Products

Libby Eiholzer, Bilingual Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

June 6, 2014
Muranda Cheese Company: Looking to the Future with Value-Added Products

Milking cows and working hard isn?t always enough to be profitable these days, and an increasing number of dairy farmers are looking to value-added products as a way to increase profitability as well as make room for the next generation on the farm. Cheese is the value added product of choice at Muranda Holsteins.
In 1991 Tom and Nancy Murray bought a small farm with 150 acres in Waterloo, NY. They milked 90 cows, slowly transitioning from grade animals to a registered herd. By 2003, the herd?s genetic value was so high that they had a milking herd dispersal. In the down time that they had until they began milking a full herd again, Tom began researching what it would take to develop and sell a value-added product. On July 4th, 2007, they made their first batch of cheese and Muranda Cheese Company was born.

So what does it take to go from selling milk to selling cheese? You might think that it would be much less work, but that?s now how the Murrays operate. The on-farm tasting room is open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm, but the OPEN flag on the farm sign never comes down. If people take the time to drive to the farm, Tom thinks that making them feel welcome is the least he can do. While 60% of cheese sales are made right on the farm, retail continues to grow. Muranda Cheese Company sells cheese to a number of wineries, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts across the Finger Lakes region.

Tom places a high priority on the personal connection allowed by doing all the company?s marketing. By delivering cheese to all the locations where it?s sold, he?s able to develop a personal relationship with each and every customer. This is certainly good for business, as most of their customers learn about them through word of mouth.

While they considered producing cheese on the farm, they decided to hire a proprietary cheese maker. They currently use three different cheese makers, and while the milk is shipped to the cheese maker to be processed, the cheese comes back to the farm to be aged, cut, and packaged. They recently added two more aging rooms, doubling their capacity. That?s certainly a good thing, as they currently have trouble keeping all 15 cheese varieties in stock!

It?s a Family Thing
. Tom and Nancy?s son Blane, a 2010 graduate of Cornell University, came back to the farm after spending his post- graduation summer learning to ultrasound cows on a dairy in Colorado. He now manages the dairy, which allows Tom time to take care of the cheese side of the business. ?I probably wouldn?t be here without the cheese business,? Blane commented. Renting their land and buying back forages hasn?t been the most profitable business model with high feed prices over the last few years, but cheese has made it profitable. They currently have two part-time employees helping Blane with the cows. Tom has eight part timers helping in the tasting room and with special events, including his wife Nancy and Blane?s fianc?e Mary Clark. Mary, who is employed full time off the farm as a dairy nutritionist, also does the nutrition for the herd.

Always open to the public. While most farms have visitors only on occasion, it?s a daily occurrence at Muranda Holsteins. The day that I stopped by, a Friday afternoon in late June, 130 people had already dropped in to taste or purchase cheese! They average about 50 visitors per weekday and more than 200 per day on the weekend. As the tasting room parking lot is right next to the tiestall, Blane eventually had to put up a rope to keep people from wandering in. He?s happy to offer tours when he?s not busy, but certainly doesn?t want people to wander around unguided.

The young couple brings fresh ideas to the business about how to reach out to the public. They?re active on Facebook, Twitter and Vine, and recently organized a Dairy Day celebration in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Cheese trail, complete with farm tours, educational displays and a chance to get pictures taken with the cows. This group of nine cheese producers organizes events throughout the year to highlight their products and the dairy industry.

Has this article got you craving cheese? Visit Muranda Cheese Company at 3075 State Route 96 South, Waterloo, NY 13165. Order cheese and view upcoming events at their website: http://murandacheese.com/.



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