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Creamery fortifies Alaska's dwindling dairy industry
Anchorage Daily News


April 08, 2008

WASILLA, Alaska -- A handful of dairy farmers here can breathe a sigh of relief. The new Matanuska Creamery, in the works since last year, is up and running, which means farmers will no longer have to dump milk.

The creamery near Palmer, a town just northeast of Anchorage, took its first load of milk and made its first batch of cheese last week. Manager Kyle Beus said he hoped to begin selling local milk as well as cheese curds and hunks of mozzarella by late April.

That was welcome news for four nearby dairy farmers, who represent the bulk of Alaska's remaining six dairy farms. The four have been without a buyer for most of their milk since mid-December, when the state-owned Matanuska Maid dairy was shut down. While the farmers were able to sell about a third of their milk to the Northern Lights Dairy in Delta Junction, they've had to dump much of the rest.

Gareth Byers, who in November took over a 300-acre farm near Point MacKenzie, said seeing the creamery's milk tanker pull up to his barn after months of dumping was a thrill.

"It was a celebration for sure," he said. Since December, Byers has dumped nearly 8,400 gallons of milk and contemplated selling off his cows if the new dairy failed.

The creamery opening relieved Beus, a former dairy farmer who has worked feverishly the past four months to transform a former grocery store on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway into a milk-processing facility. He hasn't had time to celebrate. "The bottom line is we're taking milk and we've made several batches of cheese," he said. "It's been long, long days."

While farmers were cheered, it's unclear whether Beus' plans to sell local milk, cheese and ice cream at a premium will be a hit with consumers, and by extension, save what's left of the state's dwindling dairy industry.

Byers thinks residents will flock to the local dairy products for the flavor.

"I grew up in Wisconsin. Nothing beats Wisconsin cheese," he said, "but this cheese comes as close to it as any I've tasted."


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Stories In The News
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