Windsong Farm: Making Cheese in Alaska

Tucked away on a small farm just outside of Palmer, Alaska are a couple of true cheese pioneers. Gary and Carla Beu run Windsong Farm, Alaska ’s first, and only, commercial cheesemaking operation.

Windsong Farm began as a gleam in the eyes of Gary and Carla; these two pilots and former owners of an air-taxi service had always wanted to be farmers. After purchasing a 20 acre plot of land in the 1990s, they gradually transitioned out of the flying business and into farming full time. As you might suspect, the idea of making cheese grew out of the farming and dairy operations. According to this article, the Beus were looking for a more lucrative market for the milk their cows were producing, so their thoughts turned to cheese. After investing a significant amount of time, effort and money in developing a milking and processing facility, the cheese operation became a reality in 2001. And surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) there has turned out to be a strong market for fresh cheese curds in Alaska, particularly among Alaskans that are former midwesterners.

Windsong currently has 16 cows, which provide enough milk to produce 350 pounds of fresh curds every week. These are pretty impressive numbers when you consider the particular challenges of making cheese in Alaska. Probably the most significant is heightened cost in an already costly business. Gary and Carla were lucky enough to be able to purchase most of their dairy equipment from the University of Alaska, but other cheesemaking products like cultures and rennet must be purchased elsewhere and shipped to Alaska. (As my friend in Alaska says, shopping online is a way of life for Alaskans.) Gary also points out the related problem of technical support: “there is no one in Alaska to service our equipment (recording thermometers, cooling compressors, milking systems, etc.) and we must locate and call someone for any technical questions.”  That’s in addition to the significant expense of keeping and housing cows in the winter, where temperatures can reach as low as 40 below….temperatures those Happy California Cows don’t have to worry about.

Currently, Windsong sells several flavors of cheese curd including plain, Cajun Spice, Garlic Dill and Zesty Italian; they’ve recently added fresh jalapeno cheddar and fresh mozzarella to their list of cheese products. Locals can buy Windsong Farm cheese curds at, among other places, New Sagaya Markets in Anchorage, as well as at the farm itself. Those of us a bit farther south can order from Windsong Farm online. In the future, Gary says Windsong would like to work on expand the farm's produce business to include selling speciality lettuces to restaurants. Also in the works are educational tours of the farm to teach kids (and adults) about where their food actually comes from (the folks at Quillisascut Farms in Washington are trying something similar with great success).

I wasn’t kidding when I called Gary and Carla cheese pioneers. These folks have done amazing things with cheese in a state where farming and dairy production are much more difficult and labor intensive than many of us might imagine. Despite the hurdles, they've forged ahead, and along the way managed to create a pastoral farm-oasis in rural Alaska. Here’s wishing them continued success – and here’s encouraging you, dear reader, to try Alaskan cheese curd for yourself.

Windsong Farm

HC05 Box 6931-X
Palmer, Alaska  99645

(907) 746-5079

Update 5/07: Windsong Farm is now closed, and Gary and Carla Beu are currently planning on moving to Kentucky.