Business of the Year: Kalispell Kreamery

By Beacon Staff

In an age when people are again beginning to care where their food comes from, the folks at Kalispell Kreamery invite you to come meet their cows.

The cows are healthy, happy animals, untouched by hormones and antibiotics. They’re treated like pets, family members and business partners. And the Hedstrom family knows that if the cows are happy, business is good.

Bill and Marilyn Hedstrom have operated a dairy farm near Kalispell for more than 30 years, largely because Bill fell in love with his first family milk cow. Today, he can tell a cow’s mood – its desires and dilemmas – just by looking or listening.

The Hedstroms’ love of cows has rubbed off on their daughter Mary Tuck and son-in-law Jared Tuck. Together, the four built a milk-processing facility at Hedstrom Dairy and opened another business, Kalispell Kreamery. Now every step of milk production – from raising cows to processing to bottling – is completed right on the family farm.

“People think we’re excited about milk,” Jared Tuck said, “but this whole thing started because Bill was excited about cows.”

Marilyn Hedstrom, left, and her husband, Bill Hedstrom, milk cows at their dairy farm in West Valley.

With the opening of Kalispell Kreamery in June, an experienced dairy family has suddenly found itself scrambling to learn the ins and outs of milk processing. While an immense challenge, the transition is proving fruitful. Kalispell Kreamery milk is sold in supermarkets and coffeehouses across western Montana and the owners can barely keep up with the rapidly rising demand.

Kalispell Kreamery produces non-homogenized milk. Mary Tuck calls it “old-fashioned milk.” It has a thicker layer of cream on top and people often find there is an element of nostalgia involved with shaking the jug. Tuck said large companies use milk from multiple dairies, which necessitates homogenization. There are also other reasons, some political, that have made homogenization so widespread, she said.

Homogenization should not be confused with pasteurization, the process in which milk is heated to kill bad pathogens. Kalispell Kreamery’s milk is pasteurized.

A major benefit of non-homogenized milk, Tuck said, is that the fat globules are more naturally digested into the body. Also, Jared Tuck said that many lactose intolerant people are able to drink Kalispell Kreamery’s milk. It’s not a guarantee, but he encourages anybody with lactose intolerance to at least give it a try.

“We call it the lactose challenge,” he said.

Hedstrom Dairy doesn’t use antibiotics. As a “closed herd,” the cows are never introduced to bacteria from outside cattle, Mary Tuck said. Breeding is done through artificial insemination. The farm has produced 10 generations of calves and there are about 120 active milking cows right now. They produce year round.

“They’re happy cows and they make good milk,” Mary Tuck said.

Another part of keeping the cows happy and healthy is allowing them to meander through their daily lives as they wish.

“They’re free to lay down when they want. They eat when they want. They drink when they want,” Mary Tuck said. “That’s a big philosophy we have with the cows. You don’t force a 2,000-pound cow to do anything she doesn’t want to.”

Careful nurturing of each animal is a luxury that a relatively small operation has, Bill Hedstrom said.

“Too big removes the owner from the animals,” he said. “We like the land and the cows.”

Clearly, the Hedstroms and Tucks understand cows. But building the onsite processing plant, and then learning how to use it, was an entirely new adventure. There is a precise science involved with milk processing, one that relies on monitoring pressure, temperature and time.

When they first purchased all of the equipment, now connected through a maze of pipes, it sat on the floor like a cruel jigsaw puzzle or advanced engineering Lego set waiting to be conquered. Putting it together took long enough that the owners had to postpone the opening date for Kalispell Kreamery for several months.

“At first, when we got all of this, it was just a pile of stainless steel and we didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” Jared Tuck said. “Most of the guys will pay $500,000 to have an engineer come in here. We didn’t have that kind of money, so we learned.”

Kalispell Kreamery’s milk goes from the cow to the processor into the jug and then on to the truck within the same day. As long as the supermarket isn’t too far of a drive, it probably will receive the milk that day.

The creamery produces 800 gallons of milk per day on average. It’s sold at a price comparable to any other milk. A half-gallon of reduced-fat milk costs $2.50 and a gallon costs $3.50. “Cream-On-Top” whole milk, half-and-half, heavy whipping cream and skim milk are also sold. Butter is sold for $5 per pound. Both the butter and milk are cheaper in bulk.

“We went from zero gallons to 800 (per day) in six months,” Mary Tuck said. “It’s been pretty impressive. People have been so supportive.”

In the future, Kalispell Kreamery will likely make other products such as cottage cheese and ice cream. Both the dairy side and creamery side have a team of part-time and full-time employees, in addition to the family members. Tours of the farm, processing facility and store, all located off of Farm to Market Road, are available.

Bill Hedstrom said he sold raw milk back in the 1970s but had to quit when state laws changed. Decades later, he’s in the processing business and it’s working out better than he could have hoped.

“As fast as it’s moved has surprised me,” Hedstrom said. “It just took off like wildfire.”

Kalispell Kreamery is located at 480 Lost Creek Dr. It can be reached by phone at (406) 756-6455 or found online at www.kalispellkreamery.com.

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