Shades of Ireland

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Baetje Farms

At 4:00am on Monday morning, I was sitting in my truck at my neighbor's sheep dairy. It was dark, the wind was blowing and I could barely make out the outline of the guard dogs making their patrol around the barnyard. I was waiting for Veronica Baetje ( pronounced Bay-gee) to come wheeling in with her big refrigerated van/truck to pick up her monthly supply of sheep milk ----- and me, too!  It didn't take long for things to start stirring at the dairy as the hired hand flipped on the lights and started moving around. Soon, the farm owner, my friend Chester drove up, too. He handed me his camera and told me to take lots of pictures. Before long, Veronica arrived and they loaded up two pallets worth of frozen sheep milk in to the truck. By a little after 5;00am, we were on the road and heading for Bloomsdale, Mo! It took just a little over 7 hours for us to get there. What a wonderful time we had visiting and catching up!

I met Veronica several years ago at an American Dairy Goat Convention in Kansas City. It was the one and only convention that I have ever attended. At that time, starting an artisan cheese making operation was still in the planning stages. She and her husband, Steve, have worked grueling hours and make tremendous sacrifices to accomplish this. It is still a small business but I count it a resounding success. Her world class, award winning cheeses are.........beyond description!!

This is where she took me:

The original part of this beautiful barn was built from a Sears barn kit. The additions on the right were built since the Baetjes bought the property. The additions look as if they are part of the original design.

                                       See those big open doors??? This is what is in there:

They milk somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 Saanen does.

Now, I want all of my goat lady friends to join me in drooling with envy over this spotless milking parlor. .

How about a quick look at the bulk tank room?

At this point, I had had about all that I could take in. We unloaded the frozen milk into their freezers and Veronica and I gave the truck a quick wash out. After that, we both had to have a long nap.

Much later, I got a chance to visit and get to know Steve while I followed him around doing the chores. After a supper, Neil finally arrived to pick me up. Unfortunately, he ended up taking the scenic route-- very scenic--- in the dark---- to get there. It only took us about an hour to drive to our hotel in St. Louis. 

Next morning, after breakfast, I hopped back in the truck to drive to Baetje Farms and Neil stayed for his conference. I managed to get through early morning rush hour traffic in St. Louis without an incident or a nervous break down.  My goal was to get there in time to help set up for the bus tour that was supposed to arrive at 9:00am. I was early enough and they were a bit late.

It was cool and rainy but the three bus loads of ladies still had a good time sampling cheeses and taking a look around. It was an action packed hour and half and sales were brisk. Since I have never met a stranger and enjoy conversation--- I had a ball!

After all that fun, it was time to go to work. I finally got to get into the cheese plant.

                                      Not even Angelina Jolie would look good in a hair net!!!

I am not even going to try to explain how all of this works but I will show you some of the pictures.

            I got to help put the curds into these molds to drain. This variety is known as Bloomsdale. 

                    This is what it looks like when it is aging. The dark stuff is Pine ash...... from France.

They make several varieties of aged cheeses. Veronica has to move them everyday on the cheese mats to help them keep their distinctive shapes. Some of the other varieties have to be "washed" everyday with a salt water brine.

Then there are the fresh cheeses.... Chevre in different flavors.

This is what I brought home--- chives!!

I had a wonderful visit. I learned a tremendous amount. I have no intention of ever working as hard as Steve and Veronica but I definitely came home with lots of ideas and plans for our farm.

I had to make my way back to St. Louis before the evening rush hour to go out to dinner with the folks at the conference. After dinner, I sparingly shared my cheeses with them. We had our own little tasting party in the lobby of the Double Tree Hilton.

My hat is off to these wonderful people who have dared to make their dream come true!


  1. Oh my. I was drooling long before the milk parlor LOL. Thanks for sharing!