Katie Hedrich, 27, of LaClare Family Farms may be an award-winning goat cheesemaker these days and also on the brink of realizing a long-cherished dream, but there was a time when the business of goats didn’t quite hold the appeal to her as it does today.
As a child, excitement meant spending time with friends on weekends, certainly not staying behind to milk the farm’s 29 goats by hand. And then, in 1996, when the hobby farm went professional, the herd increased from 29 goats to between 100 and 150. True, that also meant a step up to milking machines, but Katie recalls, “I hated that my parents made me do that at the time.” She was, after all, a normal kid.
“One day you’re going to really appreciate this,” said her brother, Greg, when he heard Katie complain.
And he was right. When she looks back at it now, she realizes the years of buckling down gave her the good work ethic that has contributed to the success she enjoys today.
Just didn’t want to milk
Actually, even as a teenager, it wasn’t as if Katie didn’t find some satisfaction in the enterprise. As a matter of fact, Katie dreamed of being involved in the family business in a meaningful way. She just didn’t want to milk goats the rest of her life.
At 16, that endeavor took the form of creating and marketing handmade goat milk soap. After learning the labor-intensive process, whereby the goat milk acts as a natural moisturizer in the soap, Katie experimented, adding herbs and other natural ingredients to perform other skin-enhancing miracles.
After graduating from high school, Katie went on to Fox Valley Tech to earn an associate degree in accounting and then transferred to Northern Michigan University in Marquette to pursue a bachelor’s in marketing, picking up skills she could use on the financial end of the business.
Then in 2007, when Katie applied at Target for a position as retail manager, she told them she viewed the position as an opportunity to learn about retail. One day, she would open a retail store connected with the family business.
Two years later in April found Katie attending a cheese conference in La Crosse. There, she met Gary Grossen, the master cheesemaker at Babcock Hall Dairy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and pumped him for information. Katie wanted to become a licensed cheesemaker herself.
In 2010, with the help of the first $2,500 licensed cheesemaker scholar-