Farm-fresh butter the old-fashioned way

Orchard sisters churn out European-style product at Royal Guernsey Creamery

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COLUMBUS, Wis. — Jen and Julie Orchard are doing something unique. These artisan butter makers are making butter from the cream of their cows’ milk, and to their knowledge, they are the only butter makers in the state doing so. The rich, golden milk of their farm’s Guernsey cows served as inspiration for their butter, which is slow churned in small batches.

 “We make our butter the old-fashioned way,” Jen said. “We use batch churning for fuller flavor and European-style cream tempering, which is gentler and provides a better mouthfeel to the butter.”

Cows are milked by two robotic milking systems at Gurn-Z Meadow Farm near Columbus where Julie and her husband, Ed Bacon, milk 120 Holsteins and registered Guernseys and farm 800 acres. The herd is about 40% Guernsey and 60% Holstein. 

“We’re growing our Guernsey herd,” Julie said.

The breed is a family tradition for the Orchards dating to 1945 when Jen and Julie’s grandfather began farming with Guernseys.

“All of our Guernseys originate from our grandfather’s herd,” Jen said.

In 2016, Jen and Julie were part of an American Guernsey Association research project on milk quality. After interviewing people making cheese, ice cream and other products with Guernsey milk and talking with experts at the Center for Dairy Research and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the siblings’ interest in doing something of their own was piqued.  

“We had the right milk to make beautiful butter,” Jen said. “Guernsey milk has a high fat content and high amounts of beta carotene or Vitamin A, which gives it that beautiful, golden color.” 

Julie finds the milk to be reminiscent of her childhood.

“I remember as a kid, the cream on top of the Guernsey milk was so golden and smelled so good,” she said.

Jen left a 15-year career in the biotech industry to create Royal Guernsey Creamery with her sister. Now, these seventh-generation dairy farmers are producing a product that honors their heritage.

“I was looking for a way to get involved in the farm again, and this was a great way to do that,” Jen said. “Returning to the family farm was a driving force for me to start this business.”

The sisters received grant money from the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance to help fund their endeavor. The entrepreneurs rent space at a local creamery but carry their own butter making license. Jen became a licensed cheesemaker, which she said was the fastest route to becoming a licensed butter maker. Now, Julie is apprenticing under Jen.          

According to DATCP, Jen is one of 59 licensed butter makers in Wisconsin, and she is one of only four females in the state licensed to make both butter and cheese.

Milk made on the farm on Monday and Tuesday is picked up and churned into butter within 48 hours. The cream must first go through a tempering period of 18 to 20 hours before butter production can begin.

“I don’t know anyone who can make butter as fresh as ours,” Jen said. “Milk is usually not sent to where the butter is being made — just the cream is. But in our case, the milk is sent directly to the creamery.”

One batch of Royal Guernsey Creamery butter makes 400 to 500 pounds of butter. The Orchards size their batches based on their equipment. 

“We can make a lot of butter really fast; we just can’t package it quickly,” Julie said. “There is not a lot of packaging equipment that’s affordable for small manufacturers like us.”

Currently, the Orchards are making butter at least once a month.

“We’re making butter as needed since our business is in its infancy, but we’re going to have to ramp up production really hard this fall for the holiday season,” Jen said.

Jen said butter must contain 80% fat legally, but European butter contains a minimum of 82% fat, which is what the Orchards make.

“We add no water back; therefore, our butter has a lower water content than other butters,” Jen said. “Our butter is solid and creamy and so fresh. You can literally taste the sweetness of the cream.”

Jen and Julie were thoughtful about how they packaged their product. It would take a year to find the right material — a gold foil — in which to wrap their prized butter.

“I feel like we nailed the packaging,” Jen said. “We didn’t want to just put it in a plastic tub. How you package butter and the materials you use really impact its taste. The foil not only looks nice but also protects the integrity of the butter and can handle freezing and thawing really well.”

From its shape to its coloring to its flavor, Royal Guernsey Creamery butter is distinctly different. Focused on traditional, sweet and savory, the Orchards offer butter in three flavors — salted; cinnamon and sugar; and roasted garlic, cracked black pepper and parsley. The Orchards’ salted butter won grand champion butter at the Wisconsin State Fair this summer. 

“That validated what we’re doing,” Julie said. “There’s so much trial and error in making butter. Not many people are doing it.”

Jen agreed.

“Most of the literature about making butter comes from the 1930s,” she said. “There aren’t many current research articles out there. Even getting a butter apprenticeship is very difficult. It took a couple years to find someone for me to apprentice under.”

Royal Guernsey Creamery butter hit grocery store shelves in January. The Orchards’ goal is to sell 50% of their product online and 50% through local retail. Several stores carry Royal Guernsey Creamery butter, including Metcalfe’s Market in Madison and Wauwatosa; Jenifer Street Market in Madison; and Hill Valley Dairy cheese shop in Lake Geneva.

“We’ve been selling online since December, and we expect sales to grow for the upcoming holidays,” Jen said. “I wouldn’t expect it, but we sell a lot of butter to the coasts. We sell a lot to California even though California is No. 1 in butter production. That was so surprising to us.”

The Orchards also offer a farm pickup option and have taken advantage of other opportunities to sell their butter, such as pairing it with sweet corn at a neighbor’s vegetable stand. An on-farm store is also a possibility, Julie said.

The sisters’ backgrounds are proving helpful in running their value-added business. Jen has experience in shipping and logistics, while Julie brings knowledge in integrated marketing to the table.

“I like being able to remove boundaries,” Jen said. “I really appreciate being able to ship direct to the consumer and build direct customer relationships.”

The Orchards are about to enter their busiest season yet. In anticipation of the holidays, they are boosting butter production and have plans to offer gift boxes. Creating something special from their cows’ milk has allowed the Orchard sisters to share a piece of their farm with the rest of the country. And while doing so, they are adding value to their operation.

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