Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery – with 300 dairy farm partners –won best tourism destination at the Chamber awards banquet Feb.21.
The Republican Eagle spoke with John Freeman, senior manager, about the award, upcoming creamery events and more.
Did you think you’d win this award?
We are up against some pretty stiff competition each year and since the awards are selected by the community, you never know which way it will go. We attract nearly 200,000 visitors annually to our retail store here in Ellsworth. It's a great feeling to know that the community recognizes our contributions to the local tourism economy.
How did you react when you heard you won?
It was a surprise right up until we heard our name announced at the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce's "Under the Big Top" annual dinner. It was a proud moment for our team members who were in attendance. Many of their spouses and significant others were in attendance as well and they enjoyed sharing in the celebration.
What goals and hopes do you have for your business in 2022?
We are always striving to make the experience of visiting the Cheese Curd Capital a great one. That will always be a goal for us. The curd wagon that serves up deep-fried cheese curds Thursday-Sunday in front of the store May through October will continue. We've also been offering more in the way of promotions in our stores, with periodic specials on the items popular with our customers, like our cheeses, take n' bake pizzas and fudge.
Our hope is that now that life is getting back to normal and people are feeling comfortable getting out again, they will come visit us and spend the day exploring the Ellsworth community and Pierce County.
How has your business been impacted by COVID-19 and related restrictions over the past two years?
Yes, those past two years have been challenging in many ways. Challenges were experienced in every aspect of our company, from the farm to production to the stores. Top of mind for our retail store team was to make the experience in our stores safe and enjoyable with as few disruptions as possible.
When supply-chain issues disrupted inventory, or required we temporarily change packaging, we communicated and were transparent with our customers so they understood the situation. For the most part, everyone was very understanding.
How does being located in a smaller town impact your business and the work that you do?
I would say the biggest challenge is conducting business within the limited footprint we have here in Ellsworth. We not only sell cheese here, but we make it too. 180,000 pounds of cheese curds are produced here every day. We are working at capacity in all areas right down to the parking lot. We have no more room to grow. Beyond that, we are very proud to be the Cheese Curd Capital and of our small town roots. Every team member feels a true love and connection to the Ellsworth community.
What do you want to share with the community about your business?
We're excited to soon be opening a new production facility and retail store in Menomonie, Wisconsin. The store will feature a larger footprint and inventory, more take-out food options that spotlight cheese as the main ingredient, ice cream, viewing windows into the production facility and some fun selfie-spots. Watch our Facebook page for an announcement of our opening day, https://www.facebook.com/EllsworthCheese.
Do you have any exciting events coming up in 2022?
We're excited that the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival is back for 2022, including all the cheese curds, food, tasting events and music. Mark your calendars for June 24 and 25 in East End Park.
We have also launched two new products this year. A four-year aged cheddar cheese we have named 1885 Ellsworth Reserve. The name honors the ingenuity and determination of local Ellsworth pioneers who carved the Ellsworth caves for food storage and preservation.
Quantities are very limited with this release, but as they say, we're making more. In addition, we have a new flavor of cheese curds, Dill Pickle, which can now be purchased at retailers nationwide, in our own retail stores and online via our website. Already this cheese curd flavor is a big "dill" and making headlines. It was ranked No. 5 most delicious flavored cheese curd in the world at this year's World Championship Cheese Contest.
Speaking of the World Championship Cheese Contest, several of our cheeses came home with top prizes. Our Habanero ghost pepper jack came in first place in the pepper flavored Monterey jack, High Heat category. In the Flavored Cheese Curds category, our hickory bacon took first place and our hot Buffalo flavor took second place in the world. It's quite an honor to receive international recognition. Consumers can find these cheeses at our retail stores and national retailers.