The last of the Flathead dairy farms

Dec 17, 2013

Holstein milk cows eat a mixture of alfalfa hay and barley at the Kalispell Kreamery.
Credit Katrin Frye

“My dad started with one cow 35 years ago, they loved the animal, and we grew to 200 head, because of the animal, and so, I like people to understand that we sell the milk to keep the cows- it’s not the other way around,” Mary Tuck is Vice President and owner of Kalispell Kreamery.

It’s the last of the Flathead dairy farms in an area that used to boast more than forty. Kalispell Kreamery evolved from her family dairy farm; Hedstrom Dairy.

Tuck said they had been selling milk to Country Classics, but it was bought by Dairygold. With the change, they would have to ship their milk too far to the processor to be cost effective. This issue is a reason other dairies in the area closed up shop. She said they took a risk- expand their services by not only producing milk, but investing in the equipment needed to process and sell their milk.

“To save ourselves we decided to start processing our own milk so we didn’t have to ship it clear down to Bozeman, and, kind of be at the mercy of the bigger corporations, we could make our own decision on what we were going to do with our milk,” Tuck said.

Kalispell Kreamery milk is pasteurized as per state law. This involves heating the milk to kill off bacteria.

But, it is not homogenized, so it still has the “cream” on top.

They began selling their milk 2010, and demand has been steady; it’s found in stores across the Flathead, up to Eureka, into Lake County, and south to Missoula.

A gallon of milk from Kalispell Kreamery runs between 3-dollars-and-50-cents and 4-dollars and 50-cents compared to what Tuck calls “mainstream milk” at around 2-to-3-dollars per gallon.

They make butter, yogurt, and are looking to offer a honey yogurt and cottage cheese when the cows are making more milk than they can sell.

“There’s not a shut off valve on the girls, so they produce as much as they’re going to produce, and we have to figure out a way to sell it,” Tuck said.

Other factors in the decision to bring milk processing and packaging in-house include the local-vore trend, and the fact that Tuck and her husband wanted to raise their young family on the same farm she grew up on.

Tuck said they are antibiotic and hormone free, but are not certified organic because they would have to give the cows organic feed, which she said is hard to find as much as they need, and would double the price of their milk, which is a price point they find too high. Kalispell Kreamery runs $3.50 to $4.50 per gallon.