For Chuck Krause, the new plans for expansion and modernization of his Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory are a life-long, hard-fought dream fulfilled. Krause, along with partner Art Schaap, recently broke ground on a new Ricotta production room, added space for a semi-continuous Alpma cheese machine, and added new offices that will house an instructional classroom. Krause said everything that is being done is driven by growth and the need to be more sustainable. “We’re growing good and we’re growing fast,” Krause said. “Once we get this expansion completed and the new equipment in here, we’re going to take off.” “I have a Harvard education in Feta. Because I learned it all myself the hard way — the expensive way.” Chuck Krause, Tucumcari Mountain Cheese
Krause started making cheese over 40 years ago at Krause Dairy in Morgan, WI. There he worked for his dad, Jim, and uncle Bob and with his brother Steve. After Krause Dairy was sold to Frigo Cheese in 1988, Chuck Krause worked at several cheese plants in Wisconsin and California, including the Gardenia Cheese plant in South Gate, CA, where he made Ricotta. “One of the nice things that came out of the sale of Krause Dairy is that I was introduced to a wide variety of cheese,” Krause said. “We were making mostly Cheddar. But once we were sold I began learning to make a bunch of other cheeses like Ricotta.” Krause says he’s been making Ricotta for nearly 10 years on a small scale but always saw great potential. Krause said the Ricotta will be made mostly for foodservice and private label sales.
While Krause plans to make his Ricotta for the Southwest market, his Feta, made under the Ithaki brand, is nationally distributed. “I’m a national company on Feta,” Krause said. “From Boston to San Diego. Southern California is our core market but we have big business in Chicago, Ohio, and Texas.” Krause said currently, Feta is 85 to 90 percent of the company’s cheese sales. The company makes about 20,000 pounds a Feta a day or approximately six million pounds a year. Initially, Krause will increase his Feta production 50 percent to 30,000 pounds of cheese a day, with the potential to take it to 60,000 pounds of cheese a day.
Over the course of 20 years, Krause has gone through minor expansions and made improvements. However, this is the largest expansion adding 30,000 square feet to the current footprint of 22,500. “I’ve been working on these plans for three years,” he said. The plans are to add an Alpma semi continuous Feta production line. “We’re still going to require cheese makers,” Krause said. “That’s important to us. I didn’t give up needing cheese makers. And they’re going to need to hustle because every 11 minutes we’ll have a new vat of cheese coming.” While cheese makers will still be needed in the production of Feta, the new line will allow Krause to free up some labor to increase the production of specialty cheese. Krause would like to continue increasing Tucumcari’s production of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Edam, Gouda, Asiago and Romano. “We make a really nice Asadaro and the people really seem to like it,” Krause said. “The Asadaro is big in Santa Fe and we’re just introducing it into Houston.” “The specialty cheeses have a good following locally here in New Mexico, particularly in Sante Fe and Albuquerque. And we do very well in Houston.”
Krause said the state of New Mexico is fantastic. Recently, Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory received two grants with incentives to expand, one from the City of Tucumcari and another from the state. In order to receive the grants, however, Krause will need to add 10 more people. “Job creation is very important. We are a tiny cheese plant in this state. It’s big for this town but small for the state.” Krause says he has a real good crew of workers and after 20 years the company is getting a real cheese culture established.
With the addition of 10 more people and the company culture, Krause now figures he has the capability to enter the retail market with his Feta. “Right now we’re mostly foodservice. About 99 percent foodservice. We’re one of the largest foodservice Feta sellers in southern California. We’re up to three semi loads a week,” Krause said. “But we really want to move into the retail market.” Krause will again be marketing his cheese for the retail industry in the Southwest parts of the United States.
“There is so much competition in Wisconsin and the Northeast, New York, we’re going to try and focus on our little corner of the world.” Krause will soon buy some property down the street from the cheese plant. “We’re short of space. We’re adding 30,000 square feet of warehouse with more coolers and packaging and distribution,” Krause said. The new packaging area will house what Krause says is the fastest growing part of his cheese business.
We are going to have a better, bigger facility where we can make more cheese and increase sales.” Krause’s foodservice business consists of 28-pound pails down to 10-ounce packages. “We don’t have much for retail, right now, but we’re in the process of it.” Krause is still about a year out before he can crank up production. But he’s a bit anxious to get going. “We started with nothing. No one thought I was going to make it,” Krause said. “No one was going to loan me any money. Now look at us.”
Cheese Reporter, August 2015