To meet Alise Sjostrom is to immediately understand the happiness that cheesemaking can bring someone.
Everyone wants to be like Alise—at least in the sense that she’s known what she wanted to do with her life since she was 10 years old, and she gets to spend most of her time pursuing her passion in pristine nature, surrounded by beautiful animals.
While most of us wonder where we fit in or what our life’s purpose is, Alise is a millennial entrepreneur who has already spent over 20 years working towards the singular dream of running her own creamery, named (with a wink to herself) Redhead Creamery. Once a little girl growing up on her parents' farm in Minnesota, Alise now runs her own award-winning creamery near a pond on her family's multi-generational dairy farm.
Alise's devotion to her craft is admirable. She begins her days at 4:30am, when the milk her parents collect from their 200 cows starts flowing through an underground pipe from barn to creamery and the process of making cheese can officially begin. The pipe is an innovative concept Alise learned about while studying the art of cheesemaking in Vermont and shrewdly transported back home with her.
Alise’s cheesemaking knowledge and commitment to innovation in the field runs deep. Before launching her own brand, she earned a specialized degree in dairy food from the University of Minnesota, marketed two different cheese brands, and earned a cheesemaking certificate from the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese.
Alise now serves as president and cheesemaker of Redhead Creamery, which occupies a state-of-the-art, $750,000 facility. She also has a family of her own, including two young children who spend their days running around the very same plot of land on which she grew up. It’s an idyllic setting to say the least. Her daughter, Lucy, loves to play saleswoman, happily handing customers their packaged cheese purchases. Alise’s husband grew up on a dairy farm as well and now helps Alise with the business side of the operation.
Over the weekends, when the family isn’t busy working on the farm, they offer tours of their property and facilities to the community. The focus of these tours is on how they take care of their cows and on cheesemaking in general. The purpose is to bring people together—and closer to the process of how their food is actually made.
So what’s Alise’s secret? Why does something that is so difficult for most people—finding your life’s purpose—come so easily for her?
Throughout the day that I spent with Alise on her farm, I learned so much about her. Specifically, I learned about how connecting with family and nature—in Alise’s case, cows and cheese—can make us truly happy.
1. Cheese connects Alise to nature.
“There’s something about animals and humans—that connection is very gratifying. We’re really coming to understand that now as we give more and more farm tours. People are missing that connection to nature in their everyday lives, and it’s easy to take it for granted when you live on a farm. We want to share our love and appreciation of nature with as many people as possible,” says Alise, reflecting a sentiment that is shared by dairy farmers throughout the country.
The connection Alise has with the animals she grew up with is obvious to anyone who visits. An authentic connection to animals, Alise argues, is absolutely essential for a good cheesemaker. “You have to start with a really good milk to end up with good cheese.”
Every day, the cow milk is tested to see what the fat and protein content is, which influences which type of cheese Alise will make with it.
2. Cheese connects Alise to her family.
“I never knew what it was like to have parents who didn’t work with their kids growing up,” Alise says.
At an early age, she observed her parents’ love for their life’s work. She also valued the experience of being raised in a close knit family. As an adult, Alise wanted that life too. But she was practical from the start about the reality of what she needed to work on her parents’ land. This wasn’t a head-in-the-clouds dream. While 97% of dairy farms are family owned, what most people don’t understand is the challenge of second generation farming. Land that can support one family successfully cannot necessarily support two.
Alise knew that if she wanted to work on the farm, she’d need to open up a new revenue stream to support herself and the family she planned to build. Redhead Creamery represents the four redheaded dairy farmer daughters in her family, but it also represents growth—a way for another generation to continue living off the family’s land.
When asked if she sometimes wishes that she’d stayed in Vermont, where she first studied cheesemaking, Alise doesn’t waver. Opening up a creamery on her parents’ dairy farm in rural Minnesota was always her end goal. Growing up, she genuinely appreciated what it was like to live and work with her siblings and parents every day, and her vision was to provide that same experience for her own kids.
3. Cheese connects Alise to her community.
A big part of Alise’s success belongs to the surrounding community. By involving them through Kickstarter and giving tours of the farm, locals are invited to bond with her business firsthand. Alise receives countless texts from people when they spot her products in local grocery stores because they’re proud to be part of something they’ve helped her build. They’re also devoted to supporting her business by purchasing her trusted products.
At Redhead Creamery, you will actually discover more than Alise’s own creations. Alise showcases products made by local vendors she partners with, too. Just as deep ties to her cows help her produce incredible cheese, Alise strongly believes that devotion to the dairy community overall informs the success of her creamery.
4. Cheese gives Alise a chance to experiment and be creative.
While being a dairy farmer requires a great deal of hard labor, it also involves a lot of imagination. At least, that’s the way it is at the Redhead Creamery. Alise’s artisanal cheeses are as creative and fun as they are tasty. When I ask Alise what her favorite cheese is, she says: “The crazier it looks, the better it tastes!”
One such “crazy” cheese that Alise favors is a French-style muenster that she washes with Minnesota 14 whiskey. It’s an incredibly creamy, pungent cheese that is soft on your tongue and powerful to your taste buds. This cheese is a testament to how an artistic touch can make something great that much better.
Everybody say “cheese!”
Alise is enthusiastic about cheese because for her, cheese is so many things. Cheese is a connection to her beloved family farm and the animals that live there. Cheese is a connection to her parents, her siblings, her kids, and her husband. Cheese is a connection to the community. Cheese is her work. And cheese is her outlet for creativity.
Alise is an inspiring example of her fellow dairy farmers’ passion for sustainable farming, locally sourced goods, and love of animals. Your passion may be different, but the lesson from these dairy farmers is universal: Cultivating true connection in our own lives can lead us to genuine fulfillment.
To see more inspiring stories from the people who are connecting you with the dairy on your plate, head to undeniably dairy.org/devoted.