ship awarded by Wisconsin Cheese Originals, and a six-week apprenticeship with cheesemaker Nathan Dehne at Saxon Homestead Creamery in Cleveland, she accomplished just that.
And so Katie began experimenting on the cheesemaking end of the business with the family’s goat milk, but with no in-house creamery, she had to do her experiments at various facilities away from home, calling herself “the traveling cheesemaker.” After all, to develop a successful operation, the family needed a quality product.
“It wasn’t just any goat cheese we were putting on the market,” Katie said. “We did a lot of research, and we worked with a lot of different people to make that happen.”
But when the product came to fruition, even Katie was surprised by the exquisite taste.
Evalon, after Evelyn
Now, the time had come for the family to put their heads together and come up with a name for the product. After throwing some ideas around, they chose the name Evalon after Katie’s father’s Grandma Evelyn.
When 2011 rolled around, Katie decided to enter her cheese in the U. S. Cheese Championships at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Though she knew she had an excellent product, with 1,604 entries from 30 states, Katie felt she had only a slim chance of winning—so slim, in fact, that she didn’t even bother to attend.
Katie was on a sales call in Neenah when a friend called to ask, “Where are you? You’re in the top 12.”
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“Get up here now.” “No way.”
“Get up here,” her friend repeated.
Instead of beating a path to Green Bay right away, Katie called her dad. “What should I do?”
“Go up there.”
And so, heart racing, she headed for Green Bay.
Before she reached the stadium, however, she received another phone call. “You won. Get in here. You won.”
The phone rang again, and another voice said, “You won, you won. Where are you?”
“I’m two traffic lights away.” “I thought, no way. This can’t be happening,” she said later.
As she flew to the building, a friend from Larry’s Market in Brown Deer ran out the door and gave her a big hug, and they raced into Lambeau together.
“It was pretty awesome,” she said. “I was speechless.”
Moments later, having garnered best of show, Katie posed with first runner-up Jim Sartori of Sartori Cheese in Plymouth and second runner-up Marieke Penterman, originally from the Netherlands, who represented Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp.
Out of 100 points, Katie’s Evalon goat cheese had scored 99.06 in the final round of judging, making Katie the youngest licensed cheesemaker and only the second female to win the award.
So how does a person ever prepare for an honor like that?
It’s a matter of putting the contest in the back of the mind and concentrating on the cheese.
“Every day we make the best possible cheese we can make and hope for the best,” she says.
And where does she go from here?
Equipped with a fine product, Katie wants to go from traveling cheesemaker to resident cheesemaker, and the time is now.
Have product, time to expand
“My parents had been talking about expanding forever,” she said. “But we wanted to make sure we could sell the product before we made the investment.”
Now, with a quality product in hand, LaClare Family Farms has found the ideal location to expand their business. They have purchased a piece of property on the corner of CTH HH and USU 151 in the small Fond du Lac County community of Pipe, property that once belonged to Katie’s great-grandparents, bringing four generations back to that farm.
The 35,000-square-foot facility was begun on Dec. 15, 2012, and will include a milking parlor, in-house creamery, retail store and inside courtyard where customers can relax and enjoy a cup of coffee as they watch up to 600 goats being milked and the prize-winning cheese as it’s made. By the first week of June, the family hopes to have the 425 goats they presently own transferred to the new location and the retail store open. Then, by July 1, they hope to begin making cheese. Customers are invited to linger for a while in the courtyard and observe.
In fact, it is in this courtyard where Katie will hold her wedding shower this August and subsequent wedding in October.
Back when Katie was a teenager and complained about having to milk goats instead of hanging out with friends, her brother told her she would appreciate it someday. Then, as she became motivated to become part of the operation, but in her own unique way, she dreamed of working alongside her parents and other family members on the farm.
But at the time, did she ever envision it would come to all of this?
“Part of me, yes, but not to this extent,” she said. “This is much bigger than my dreams.”