Creativity helped prolong
Koepke Family Farm’s traditions, which started in the
dairy farmers John and Kim Koepke began to feel the
pinch of rising land prices from country estates and
hobby farms, later known as Koepke Family Farms in the
towns of Ashippun and Oconomowoc, they knew it was time
to get creative.
Koepke’s wanted to retain their agricultural tradition,
which began with John’s great-great-grandparents in
1875. In 1937, when his grandparents, Harvey and Ruth,
took up dairy farming a few miles from the family
homestead, they got 15 acres and a barn that had room
for seven cows. The farm expanded under the ownership of
John’s father, Jim, and his uncles, Alan and Dave.
Today, there are 350 milk cows, 350 heifers — all
registered Holsteins — and farm 1,110 acres with 15
fulland part-time employees.
use a Double 10 Herringbone milking parlor, where they
milk three times a day and the milk is marketed through
Dairy Farmers of America.
addition to the milk, they do some cash grain sales and
raise 50 or 60 replacement cattle, but the rising cost
of land would not allow the newest generation to expand.
That’s where another Wisconsin tradition comes into the
2008, John and Kim began looking into making cheese as a
way to add value to their enterprise.
spent two years talking with people in the cheese
industry and found master cheese maker Bob Wills, owner
of Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain.
Wills agreed to do the custom work involved in producing
cheese that came exclusively from the Koepke herd.
Making cheese fits with the Koepke’s goals of being good
stewards to their cattle and the land they farm.
care and attention with their livestock resulted in more
than 100 head that hold lifetime records of producing
more than 200,000 pounds of milk. One cow, Granny, held
the world record for producing a lifetime total of
459,000 pounds, enough to fill a typical tanker nine
times. John said it may still hold the U.S. lifetime
Koepke Farms was also a forerunner when it came to
adopting a no-till conservation system, incorporating
grassed waterways and adding barnyard runoff control
into its management plans. Not only have the measures
improved soil health, they also earned the farm a
Leopold Conservation Award in 2011.
name of their product — LaBelle — has local roots taken
from a landmark lake 10 minutes down the road in
wanted to have a name for the cheese that would be
connected with our local community. Also, la belle in
French means ‘the beautiful,’” Kim said. “What could be
more romantic than calling our product ‘the beautiful’
cheese in French, even though it’s a Dutch Gouda
inspired cheese recipe from a family with predominately
a German heritage.”
2010, the first LaBelle cheese was produced in Plain and
two years later the operation was moved from the parent
company to Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee.
said the enterprise was a bit dicier than working
through the DFA. There, milk leaves the farm and a milk
check comes in. When it comes to the cheese, they’re on
their own with developing, marketing and selling.
enterprise became a family operation, with Kim, John’s
mother, Mary, and employee Elmo Wendorf selling the
cheese, wedge by wedge, at farmers markets.
and John’s son Colton, 13, often accompanies his
grandmother. Son Samuel, 9 helps label cheese and Auggie,
16, helps out on the farm.
After gaining popularity at farmers markets, they
approached a few retailers in Milwaukee and Oconomowoc
who agreed to carry the LaBelle brand.
an interesting thing happened — retailers began to come
to them and ask about carrying their cheese.
best PR came from people that believed in what we were
doing,” John said.
While a portion of the cheese is sold by direct
marketing, the rest goes through a distributor.
LaBelle Cheese can be found locally at the West Bend
Sendiks and in recipes and cheese platters at The Irish
Pub in Oconomowoc. They can also be found Feb. 24 and
March 31 at the Milwaukee Winter Farm Market at the
Mitchell Park Domes and in May, at the Oconomowoc and
Wauwatosa farmers markets.