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Follow Tim Tonjes of Tonjes Farm Dairy through a door into a hillside on his farm, and you will find the subterranean cheesemaking operation, fifteen feet under the earth, where Tim makes his yogurt, kefir, and both fresh and aged cheeses. Why underground? It’s not called a cheese cave for nothing! The cool temperature and steady humidity level make it the perfect, energy-efficient location to age cheeses, and in fact follows in the centuries-old European tradition of aging cheese in mountain caverns.
Tim didn’t always have a cheese cave underground, however. He started his artisanal cheese operation in 2003, when he found his second generation dairy farm becoming ever more unprofitable: unstable milk prices and rising costs of production make the modern dairy industry a volatile field to forge one’s independent livelihood. So, with the help of agricultural economic developer Rick Bishop’s “Cheese Mobile,” Tim switched gears. The “Cheese Mobile” is a NY State-approved cheesemaking trailer that Tim could use to begin his quest into the art of value-added dairy products, without an initial financial commitment for an aging and production facility of his own. After two years with the help of the “Cheese Mobile” and training from a host of other cheesemakers, Tonjes was ready for a more permanent cheese operation to call his own.
Today, Tim wears many different hats on the farm. He must keep the pasture in good condition, care for his herd of Holstein-Friesians (all 100 of them), and milk about fifty animals at any given time. He produces all the cheeses himself, though his wife Mary assists occasionally as well. Tim is also in charge of the packaging, distribution, and marketing side of the business. It’s this hands-on dedication to his cheesemaking that sets Tonjes apart from the rest.
Tonjes’ products have been widely recognized for their superior taste and freshness, including his greek yogurt, mozzarella, and five different aged raw milk cheeses. His cows are completely pasture-raised and hormone free and all his products use whole, non-homogenized milk.
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