What do you do when everyone around you is closing down their operations and selling out to developers? You double down, reinvent yourself and carve out a niche that makes people crave what you have created. In this case, that niche was carved out of cheese and has fulfilled the goals and dreams of father and son farmers, Grant and Russ Kohler of Midway.
The Heber Valley once was home to 130 dairy farms — but today there are only two remaining farms in production.
“Small dairy farmers needed to change how they did business in order to survive,” said Grant Kohler, owner and cheese maker at Heber Valley Artisan Cheese.
Grant and Russ, along with their wives and families, have taken their fourth-generation dairy farm to a whole new level of technology and production.
“I told Russ he needed to work somewhere else and see if this was what he really wanted,” explained Grant. After four years away, Russ, along with his wife Heather, came back to the valley. Together, the Kohlers decided to pull the trigger and open a state-of-the-art creamery that specializes in producing the finest cheese with the finest milk.
The rest is history, right? Easy said… not so easily done.
The Kohlers faced a huge uphill battle to design, build and open their dream creamery. “The initial investment was a lot more than we thought,” said Grant. “But the rewards have paid off.”
The Kohlers entered the specialty cheese market at the right time, but that doesn’t mean notoriety and success came overnight. They spent hours, weeks and months meeting with grocery stores, vendors and wholesalers, sampling and testing out their product to keep it on the shelves.
“We couldn’t just let it sit there on the shelf,” Russ said. “We had to have people trying it and educate them on our homegrown cheese.”
Today, more and more people are wanting to know where their food comes from and Americans are increasingly seeking out family-owned and operated businesses. In the same way, people are moving toward independent, local cheese makers.
Happy Cows, Happy Cheese
HVAC has had to adapt in order to grow. “We didn’t have the option of buying more land here,” Grant explained. “We had to change what we were doing in order to survive.” As a result, HVAC has become a destination stop for valley visitors from all over the country.
Its Midway location offers homemade grilled cheese sandwiches, Aggie Ice Cream, local preserves and jellies, as well as house-made fudge and locally-sourced items. HVAC’s market also has a large viewing window that allows patrons to see the actual cheese making process, which is fascinating. They even offer mozzarella-making classes, creamery tours and fun farm tours where you can meet the “ladies” of HVAC.
“We love giving people understanding and knowledge on what we do here at the dairy,” said Russ.
Since the addition of the creamery, the Kohler farm has been making cheese and distributing it not only throughout the Intermountain West, but across the country. At the dairy, they 100-percent believe in animal agriculture, meaning the cows come first — everything is done with their safety and health in mind.
The Kohlers have also added a state-of-the-art facility to their operation, which provides “cow comfort” for their amazing cows. “Better cows produce better quality milk,” asserted Grant. “If our cows are comfortable, happy and cared for, they reward us with higher quality milk for cheese production.”
Any HVAC patron can see and taste the love and care the Kohlers put into their cows. It doesn’t matter whether you’re frying up some of their signature Juustoleipa (oo-stay-lee-pa, meaning bread-cheese), grating some Cascade Raw for your tacos or simply enjoying a delicious flavored cheddar, you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality and flavor.
That flavor and quality is what have people coming back, time and time again. The Kohlers are building a legacy, and in doing so, have made a way for their family to stay together. With the fifth generation of farmers and cheese makers growing up in the family business, it doesn’t look like Heber Valley Artisan Cheese is going anywhere anytime soon.