Her passion for cheese changed the family farm

Alise Sjostrom and some of her farmstead cheeses

There’s an all-too-common story of the younger generation being unable to join the parents on the family farm because it can’t sustain two (or more) families, says U of M graduate Alise Sjostrom.

So when she returned home at age 16 from a 4-H youth trip announcing that not only did she plan to stay on the family’s dairy farm, she intended to expand into cheese making, her parents were supportive yet skeptical. 

“Little did my parents know that they would one day become partners with my future husband and I,” says Sjostrom, who is CEO of Redhead Creamery in Brooten, MN.

Inspired by her 4-H experience, and encouraged to learn everything she could about cheese making, Sjostrom created her own curriculum at the University of Minnesota, pursuing what she calls her passion and dream of cheese making.

Dairy is also a passion for Sjostrom’s husband, Lucas. The two met as kids, stayed connected through a variety of 4-H experiences, and fell in love when they both attended the U of M.

Alise, in fact, made her first batches of cheese in the U of M’s dairy labs and graduated with a degree in agricultural industries and marketing. Lucas’s degrees are in animal science, focusing on industry, communications, and dairy herd management. As students, they learned all they could about cheese making, even touring artisan cheese plants throughout New England. 

After years of education and preparation to get Redhead Creamery up and running, the Sjostroms were finally ready to make their first cheese. It flopped. A problem with the vat set them back months.

But their business, which specializes in farmstead cheese, exists today because they knew how to press on.

“Many times in my 4-H dairy project years I had a good animal that just refused to cooperate when it came time for the show,” says Alise. “Those experiences helped me get tougher. My mom taught me that it’s not about the show, but to learn something.”

It seems to be working. Redhead Creamery cheeses can be found in specialty food and cheese shops as well as breweries and wineries across the Midwest, and in 2017, the farm won the national Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year award. 

A version of this story originally appeared in U of M Extension's Source magazine.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities