Westby Creamery News

Cottage Cheese Maker Celebrates 40+ Years with Westby Creamery

Cottage Cheese Maker Celebrates 40+ Years with Westby Creamery
Aug 12, 2019 (Westby, WI)

At first, you feel like you need to be on your best behavior in front of Westby Creamery’s Chris Dach. He exudes kindness and warmth akin to Santa Claus, and he possesses the light blue, sparkling eyes to match. This unassuming and friendly man has been making Westby Creamery’s award-winning cottage cheese for more than four decades, and he has no intention of stopping. In fact, he hopes to exceed Westby Creamery’s prior stalwart of 44 years, Odell Rognstad.

Employee, Doc, making cottage cheese at the Westby Cooperative Creamery.

Doc, as he is known by most, began making cheese in August 1978. He had been working seasonal jobs prior to joining the creamery and decided to stay with cheesemaking because it was full-time work with the opportunity for overtime, which suited his incredible stamina.

In those years cottage cheese-making was even more physically demanding than it is today. Doc said workers used a pail to scoop out cottage cheese by hand into 95-pound drums. Dry curd cottage cheese, a specialty type of cottage cheese, had to be shoveled by hand as well.

“We’re a lot more automated today than when we used pails. We hardly ever have to do anything like that now. It’s all done with pumps,” Doc said.

The artistry involved in making great cottage cheese is passed down through the likes of people like Doc. Even with documented Standard Operating Procedures, nothing replaces the human propensity to create a rhythm when it comes to getting the science of cheesemaking right.

“When the vats are ready to cut you better be cutting them, or it makes soft cheese,” Doc said. “And you’ve got to pay attention to the thermometers and clock. You have to stay on schedule.”

He further explained that different temperatures create different cheeses. For example, a bigger curd requires warmer temperatures to avoid crumbling curds. Doc can rattle off exact temperatures and durations like a computer program except, unlike a computer, he smiles when doing so.

Those smiles are evident, in part, because Doc said he genuinely likes what he does. “They are very good to me here. The supervisors – we get along really well, and that’s half the battle. You just have to do things right, come to work and do your job to the best of your ability,” he said.

In the time Doc has worked for the creamery, he’s been married, had two children, watched them grow up and now spends time at home with his wife, Sheila. And for a man who’s used to hard work, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that his hobbies include working out.

Doc enjoys using his elliptical, treadmill, dumbbells and even has a five-mile walking route when the weather allows. “I can’t run anymore, but I can definitely go fast,” he said, noting that he also participates in creamery-sponsored fitness challenges and enjoys going to church when he has a Sunday off.

Years of experience hasn’t prevented the occasional mishap, and Doc laughs when talking about the times when he or a colleague has received an unexpected ice bath. Though rare, pressure can build in a line, and the result is an abrupt shower upon unhooking. “There have been milk baths too,” he quipped.

Doc’s colleagues are as fond of him as he is of them. Plant Manager Ryan O’Donnell said Doc’s been instrumental in supporting the growth of Westby cottage cheese production. “Doc shares his knowledge and expertise willingly and patiently. It is very refreshing to see him take so much pride and joy in the finished product,” O’Donnell said. This expertise is highly valued by the Creamery team, but attempts to put Doc in charge have not come to fruition.

“At this stage of the game I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and then ride off into the sunset,” Doc said.

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