By age 18, they say they won’t come back to work at the family business. But in every generation, that’s exactly what members of the Minerva Dairy family do.
Phil Mueller, 4th generation, says he started at the bottom at age 12. He made his first vat of cheese at age 14. At 28, he was handed the reins when his father passed away.
“Each generation is the caretaker to the next generation. So far it’s worked,” Phil said.
Siblings Adam Mueller and Vanae Watts are the family’s 5th generation to run the business. Their oldest children are beginning to work at the dairy, too, taking on tasks like cheesemaking and unloading trucks.
Being in the butter and cheesemaking business isn’t easy.
“It’s a lifestyle, not a job,” Vanae said.
Where it all began
While Minerva Dairy Inc. was founded in 1894, the company started out in Hustiford, Wisconsin, as Radloff Cheese. The Minerva location was the company’s 20th cheesemaking plant, which was purchased in 1935. The company’s name changed to Minerva Dairy Inc. in 1962.
Butter and cheese
Minerva Dairy’s butter recipe has been the same since 1894. It’s made in small batches, contains 84 percent butterfat and it’s hand-rolled.
Over the years, the ingredients — cream and salt — have remained the same, but “there are more push buttons,” as Phil puts it.
Minerva Dairy also makes and sells cheese. It’s unusual for a dairy to make many varieties of cheese, but Minerva Dairy makes between eight and 10 varieties.
Today, Minerva Dairy produces between 5 and 7 million pounds of butter and between 8 and 10 million pounds of cheese each year, with milk coming in from farmers.
“We see ourselves as an extension of the dairy farm. We look at ourselves as part of the ag system,” Adam said.