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CannonBelles ramps up production at new plant

The new plant includes two vats, a pasteurizer, cheese compress, curd mill, packaging sealer, walk-in coolers, a sub-zero freezer for cultures and a testing lab.

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Jackie Ohmann and Kathy Hupf, who own CannonBelles with Deeann Lufkin, stand by the pasteurizer at their new cheese plant in Cannon Falls, Minn. on June 7, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek

CANNON FALLS, Minn โ€” Cheesemakers Jackie Ohmann, Kathy Hupf and Deeann Lufkin finally have a plant to call their own.

Ohmann, Hupf and Lufkin are the owners of CannonBelles, an artisan cheese company based out of Cannon Falls, Minnesota. First making cheese out of Ohmann's kitchen, they eventually graduated to the University of Minnesota's Pilot Plant.

Now they have a plant of their own โ€” on Cannon Industrial Boulevard in Cannon Falls โ€” where the trio is on their fifth cheese make since moving in last month.

Construction of the 5,800 square feet plant began in October 2020, and the finished facility has two vats, a pasteurizer, cheese compress, curd mill, packaging sealer, walk-in coolers, a sub-zero freezer for cultures and a testing lab.

CannonBelles eventually plans to expand staff, but for now, Ohmann, Hupf and Lufkin are the ones processing all the cheese each week, on Tuesdays. The cheeses they currently offer are ones they mastered in the decade leading up to securing their own plant. They have queso fresco, four aged cheddars, Gouda, Colby and eight flavors of cheese curds.

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Start of the journey

"We started out 10 years ago in my kitchen, making cheese in a pot on the stove," said Ohmann. "Then we graduated to turkey roasters."

Using turkey roasters in her kitchen, Ohmann said they could make 16 pounds of cheese in one day, and it took 8-10 hours. Then they'd give all the cheese out to family and friends.

"They were like oh, this is good, you could sell this," said Ohmann. "So that started the journey of how to make cheese commercially."

Kathy Hupf said that since 2016, when the three women made their first commercial batch of cheese at the UMN pilot plant, they thought they'd be in a plant of their own within a year. They moved into their new plant in May.

"It's been a long journey," said Hupf. "A lot of challenges along the way, but we persevered, and we're here."

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The front of the new cheese plant for CannonBelles in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, on June 7, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek

Hupf said the time spent in the UMN plant โ€” where they learned from Ray Miller, a master cheesemaker โ€” gave them a chance to really hone their skills.

"And really find out what we wanted to use for equipment in our own plant, so it really was a benefit for us," said Hupf. "There were many days where we thought, how long are we going to be here, and how long will it take us to get our plant โ€” but in the end, it was really a good thing for us."

Ohmann said that having their own facility is a "dream come true."

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Full circle

CannonBelles gets all of its milk from Square Deal Dairy in Randolph. Ohmann said they get between 4,000-5,000 pounds of milk each week, which they can turn into 650 pounds of cheese.

"The butterfat and proteins make for a really good, high quality milk," said Ohmann. "So we're able to get a lot more cheese per pound of milk, which is exciting."

At the UMN plant, Ohmann said they were only able to process between 750-1,000 pounds a month.

"So we've already doubled to tripled our production," she said.

Square Deal Dairy, owned by Blake and Chicky Otte, is less than five miles away from the plant.

"Location is key, but more importantly I think, is the family interaction that we have," said Hupf. "They are just a fantastic family, and they work well together, and do an amazing job managing their herd of cows."

Along with supplying CannonBelles with high quality milk to make cheese with, Square Deal Dairy also takes back the whey from the cheesemaking process to feed their cows with.

"It's really a full circle," said Hupf.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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