In the early 2000s, like many dairy farmers over the last few decades, Tim Tonjes was having a hard time keeping his family dairy with production costs rising and market prices falling. Despite pressure to increase the size of the dairy in order to compete, Tim didn’t want to increase the size of his farm, or herd of Holstein-Friesian cows, which are all allowed to roam in pastures and feed on grass.
It was thanks to a local cooperative program that teaches local dairy farmers how to add value to their dairy products, that Tim became interested in cheesemaking. He learned the craft using New York State’s CheeseMobile, a cheese plant on wheels, which was parked on his farm for two years while he honed his skills and saved up for his own facility.
In 2003, Tonjes Farm Dairy began making cheese, starting with Mozzarella. Once Tim was able to make the investment, he dug out a hillside on the property to build a cheesemaking room and aging cave. Having the facility built into the hill ensures that energy costs are kept to a minimum, plus it’s a nod to the cheesemaking tradition of aging cheese in caves. Tim still considers himself a farmer first; after all you need to grow hay to feed the cows. However, he does much more now. With the help of his wife Mary and other family members Tim is the cheesemaker, packager, distributor and marketer for his own products.
Aged for around 90 days, Tonjes’ Caerphilly is his version of the renowned Welsh cheese of the same name and it is one of a number of raw cow’s milk cheeses that are produced on the farm.