Meet The People: Dairy Department

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery

Closeup of Ellsworth Cheese Curds

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is based in the Heart of Wisconsin's Dairyland, just 60 miles from the Twin Cities in the town of Ellsworth. They're known as the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin, a designation given in 1984 by Governor Anthony S. Earl. If you've ever enjoyed a deep-fried cheese curd at the Minnesota State Fair, then you're familiar with their signature product.

The cooperative is 350+ dairy farm families strong. However, these families are more than the producers of their milk – they're also the owners of their organization. Located in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and all within a 60-mile radius of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery's production facilities, it's these real farm families that have produced their products' main ingredient for more than 100 years. Keeping it small and local is just one reason for the Cooperative's success in producing products known for freshness and quality.

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery has come a long way since their early days. Originally named the Ellsworth Butter and Cheese Company, the organization incorporated in 1910 with their primary product being butter. They didn't actually begin making cheese curds until 1968, but the popularity of the product was almost instantaneous. Production in Ellsworth soon transitioned over to all cheese curds and the rest, as they say, is history.

One of the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery families One of the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery families

Well, not quite... In 2011, a new chapter was written in the Cooperative's history book when Comstock Creamery in Comstock, Wisconsin, joined the Ellsworth Creamery family. For cheese lovers, this was a marriage made in heaven. The acquisition brought with it expanded cheesemaking capabilities and today the two plants produce 50 varieties of specialty and artisanal cheeses.

Operating around the clock, milk is delivered from farms daily, resulting in freshness you can taste. The Ellsworth, Wisconsin, facility specializes solely in the production of their world-famous All Natural White Cheddar Cheese Curds. Farmer certified rBST-free milk is used to produce about 160,000 pounds of 100% All Natural Premium Cheddar Cheese Curds each day! In Comstock, Wisconsin, the focus is on small-batch artisan cheeses. They've earned a reputation for producing many award-winning varieties.

Thankfully, Kowalski's customers don't need to make the trip out of town to have fresh-from-the-farm flavor in their refrigerators. There's no need to look any further than our dairy case and the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Blaser's and Antonella labels.

Find them in the Dairy Department.

Fresh Bars

A point-of-view shot of a man holding two fresh bars up to the camera, with a view of a forest path in the background

Fresh Bar began in Ross Pomeroy's kitchen. Following the discovery of a year-old snack bar in a hidden nook in his backpack, he was shocked to discover that it tasted exactly the same as it did on the day it was purchased. Not good. Here was a bar that was, first and foremost, made to last, not to eat. There had to be a better way: A fresher bar that was made to eat, not to sit on a shelf. That day, Ross created Fresh Bar.

Unlike other bars, Fresh Bar was not dried out, did not contain preservatives, and only used a simple slate of ingredients. As a result, Ross' creation had a much softer texture and brighter flavor that other bars couldn't match and a rich balance of nutrients that filled you up without making you feel bad. To keep his bars fresh, Ross kept them in the fridge – though they rarely lasted long after they were made!

To bring Fresh Bar to the world, Ross joined forces with his business-minded twin brother, Will, and three childhood friends, Tom, Mike and Austin. Together they spent three years worth of sleepless nights in a cramped community kitchen honing their product and picking up their first customers.

Headshot of the Fresh Bar team

Today you can find Fresh Bars across the country, but it was here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that they started their journey, testing and sampling their bars to customers in local grocery stores like Kowalski's!

Find Fresh Bars in the Dairy Department.

Holy Land

Holy Land Hummus

Wajdi Wadi, Holy Land's founder, originally moved from Kuwait to the United States to attend college. Later seeing an opportunity in Ali Baba Bakery, he purchased the business with the help of his uncle.

Wajdi's vision soon brought the business to a small neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis under the new name Holy Land.

Beginning in an 800 sq. ft. storefront, Holy Land found a niche as a Middle Eastern deli, bakery and grocery store. Wajdi created a recipe for success by offering specialty products that could not be found anywhere else. Using a recipe handed down from his grandfather, Wajdi started making what would become award-winning pita bread.

By 1993, Holy Land had outgrown its original storefront location, while City Pages named it the "Best Middle Eastern Deli." In 1995, Wajdi's brother Majdi came from Jordan to join the family business. From here, the brothers Wadi focused on how best to meet the needs of Minneapolis. The menu expanded as customers clamored for the delicious, healthy food they were cooking up.

Holy Land serves customers yearning for authentic Middle Eastern fare but serves their community as well. Majdi has worked within the community and the various cultures within it, developing a broader business base. The Star Tribune labeled Holy Land "a mecca for the international shopper," but it has become much more—it's become a mecca for Minneapolis' growing diverse community.

Holy Land distributes its products to many local stores and co-ops throughout the Twin Cities as well as neighboring states. Though business continues to grow, the family remains committed to their original goal of providing quality food with a friendly family atmosphere.

Hope Creamery

Hope Creamery Logo

Located in Hope, Minnesota, Hope Creamery is one of the only independently owned creameries in the state churning out butter in small batches the old-fashioned way. Made from fresh, local cream, the company's Grade A butter is prized by chefs and restaurateurs for its exceptional smoothness and rich flavor. With taste and texture comparable to European butter, you will definitely taste the difference.

Hope Creamy is owned and operated by Victor Mrotz, who purchased the creamery in 2000. Mrotz moved from the Twin Cities back to his family farm with his wife Kellie, who manages the company books and raises their two children. 

Kemps

Kemps Cows

Based in Saint Paul, Kemps has been delivering goodness to families since 1914. From their humble beginnings as a small creamery in southeastern Minnesota, they've grown into a dairy operation 100% owned by family farmers throughout the upper Midwest. However, Kemps' mission has remained unchanged for over 100 years, as they continue to passionately transform nature's pure milk into great products that nourish families every day.

Every time you buy Kemps – whether it's their fresh, locally sourced milk, delicious ice cream products or creamy cottage cheese – you support family farms and keep them going. It's a circle that goes from farm to family and back again.

Find Kemps products in the Dairy and Frozen Foods Departments.

Larry Schultz Organic Farm

Larry Schultz Free Range Chickens

Larry Schultz Organic Farm is a small, family-owned farm located in Owatonna, MN. Larry was raised on a family farm just one mile down the road from where he lives and works today. His parents always farmed organically. When farm chemicals came into use in the '50s and '60s, they didn't adapt to these new farming practices. Larry adhered to higher standards and kept herbicides, insecticides and artificial fertilizers off his land.

Better eggs start with healthier, happier chickens, which is why a "Schultz" egg is among the best you'll find. Schultz's chickens are free-range, certified organic and are never administered hormones or antibiotics. In fact, the family grows most of their crops, grinds their own feed, handles and grades their own eggs (the day they're layed, unlike some farms), and handles most of their deliveries.

The Schultz farm is very much a family farm. The entire family is involved in one way or another. Whether it's handling eggs or helping raise naturally tastier organic turkeys and chickens, one thing's for sure: If chemicals and hormones are the wave of the future, the Schultzs are happy to be old-fashioned.

Locally Laid Egg Company

Jason and Lucie Amundsen of the Locally Laid Egg Company

Locally Laid Egg Company is proudly owned by the husband-and-wife team of Jason and Lucie Amundsen, who ventured into the world of farming in 2012. The Amundsens started with a backyard flock of just five hens, but their passion for poultry knowledge soon grew. Today they have a flock of 1,800 hens and are spurred on by their enthusiasm for eggs laid by healthy, happy chickens grazing on seasonal clover, seeds and tasty bugs. Locally Laid also partners with other mid-size farms to provide more tasty eggs and happy chickens to the region, while bringing economic vitality to rural places.

Find Locally Laid Eggs in the Dairy Department.

Organic Valley Co-op

Organic Valley Dairy Cows

It was the hottest day of the summer, with the thermometer registering 102°F in the middle of the afternoon, when Kowalski's Dairy/Frozen Department managers boarded a bus for the rolling hills of River Falls, Wisconsin, and the scenic dairy farm of Matt Grimm. A third-generation farmer, Matt and his parents Gary and Judy invited Kowalski's to come and learn about organic farming along with the staff from Organic Valley Cooperative. Under the shade of the trees in their yard, we had the chance to meet with three dedicated farm families and hear their stories.

 baby cowMatt's grandfather came to River Falls during the Depression, when many farms were facing foreclosure. "If you could make a payment, the farm became yours, so that's how my grandfather got started," said Matt. "I grew up on the farm and ended up back here after college when there were no other jobs. My major in agronomy and plant science with a minor in dairy science made this a natural fit for me." After meeting with neighbors, Matt discovered that he was using a lot of the organic farming methods, and eleven years later he became certified organic and signed on with Organic Valley Cooperative.

As a family business ourselves, we really embrace the mission of Organic Valley, which is to keep farmers on the farm. David Butterfield, Marketing Manager at Organic Valley, explained, "For every million dollars in sales of Organic Valley products, we are able to keep five families farming or bring five additional families onto the farm." Matt added, "When I was growing up, there were twenty-seven dairy farms in the township. Now there are four. Organic Valley is the third largest producer of organic milk in the country, and by providing a cooperative for farmers to sell their milk to, they are establishing a stable price so we know what we will be paid every month."

Matt Grimm has a herd of 85 Holstein cows that graze on some of the most pristine pasture land in the state. Dr. Paul Detloff, veterinarian for Organic Valley, calls Matt's land a "salad bar" for his cows. "Everything starts in the soil. Since these farmers can't use nitrogen and potassium, they have to learn how to grow that in the soil naturally, the way Mother Nature did it," says Dr. Paul. "Many of the young farmers we work with have degrees and are willing to share information with other farmers in the cooperative so they will all succeed. It is not to their advantage for their neighbors to fail so they can expand," he adds.

Many of the cows in the Grimm herd are 13 years old, unheard of on large production dairies. "The average age of the cows on larger corporate farms is two years old, since they are raised to grow quickly and pushed for production in confined quarters," said Dr. Paul. "Cows almost never get sick on an organic farm thank in part to the biodiversity of the natural organic pasture land they feed on. The variety of grasses and clover they consume provides the cows with many different nutrients and is what helps them to remain so healthy."

Organic Valley families
Also joining us on the Grimm farm were Organic Valley farmers Mike Petherbridge and Doran and Mariann Holm. Mike and his wife, Julie, along with their six children milk 40 diary cows on their farm in Dresser, Wisconsin. Unlike Matt, Mike did not grow up on a farm but always wanted to own one. He worked nights in a factory and just recently was able to make farming his full-time work.

Doran and Mariann Holm and their eight children are first-generation farmers as well who purchased their farm in Menomonie, Wisconsin, over the phone while living in Newport Beach, California. "After reading the book All the Places to Love, we decided to move back to the Midwest and raise our family here," said Mariann. It is a move that has been great for their family. Besides farming, Doran also works off the farm for Organic Valley.

For more information about Organic Valley, visit their website at www.organicvalley.coop. It is a movement that is gaining momentum and a story that we are eager to share.

Prohibition Kombucha

Nate and David on a trip to China to visit the fields where the tea leaves for their kombucha tea are grown

Prohibition Kombucha is handmade in the Twin Cities and brewed with care using direct-sourced Chinese teas from small family farms. The company was founded in 2014 when chef and brewer Nate Uri began his search for a non-alcoholic beverage as sophisticated, satisfying and terroir-dependent as fine wine.

He asked, "What happens when you apply the nuance of fermentation to the rich culture of fine, terroir-focused tea?"

Partnering with Verdant Tea founder David Duckler, Nate began brewing a clean, sophisticated and thoroughly unique brew, calling it Prohibition Kombucha.

Nate and Dave are now proud to employ a dozen friends here in Minneapolis, as well as over in China where the tea grows. They are currently distributed across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, and their kombucha has been featured nationwide in newspapers, radio and television interviews on kombucha, cocktail craft and tea.

Using modern brewing and winemaking techniques, this long-fermented and perfectly aged bubbly tea tonic is crisp, complex and exquisitely refreshing. The satisfying texture, aroma and flavor in each bottle reflects the mountains, the forests, the soil and water – the unique terroir – where their teas are grown. Each flavor is carefully crafted to amplify each tea's identity and seasonality.

Find Prohibition Kombucha in the Dairy Department.