50 States of Cheese – Mauthe’s Progress Milk Barn Mississippi
Kenny and Jamie Mauthe had everything stacked against them. Kenny, a third generation dairy farmer, must have thought he’d seen and heard it all, his family making a living managing a dairy herd in the Deep South for many decades. Starting out with the family farm in Louisiana, they moved from New Orleans to the Northshore, before finally settling in Promise, Mississippi, keeping one step ahead of the urbanization emanating out from the ‘Big Easy’. Around one hundred miles north of New Orleans, Kenny and Jamie set up their three hundred acre farm in the quiet town in Pike County, at a time dairy farming, and milk processing in particular, was going through a massive shakedown. Only the giant Bordens now remain standing as a commercial processor in the area. One key event took its toll on the smaller businesses and left the local dairy industry in ruins. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck.
Jamie explained that difficult time: “Katrina changed everything. We had to shut down for five years and rebuild. Our market to the south, all the milk processing operations, finished. We had to sell off our herd, most of our land and figure out how to support the family.” Slowly the herd was built back up on the remaining fifty acres, and Jamie started to think about a new profitable avenue to start up the farm again. “My two daughters, Sarah and Katie, got involved in the farm, and we decided to get into cheese making. They are now the fourth generation carrying on our family business. We saw dairies that were just processing milk up in Vermont change their businesses so we learnt from them.”
One particular local delicacy had died out and Jamie was determined to see it make a comeback. “My family delivered Creole cream cheese door-to-door back in the 1930’s. It was popular but nobody was doing it anymore so we learnt how to make it again. The market, especially back in the New Orleans area, was huge. People loved it.” This formed the basis of the now famous Creole Cheesecake. Florida has its key lime pie. Jamie is hoping Creole cheesecake is the next big thing. Daughter Katie helps out with the milk processing, still a major component of the business, while Sarah is hands-on making cheese cake. Kenny is the cheese maker. And Jamie? “I’ve been in this business for over thirty years- there’s not much I can’t do. I do a bit of everything, whatever is needed.”
The farm now has around forty Jersey cows, with a couple of Holsteins. The Jersey cows provide the perfect milk for the cream cheese, with high levels of solids that produce a stable, rich yellow-colored milk high in beta-carotenes. The cows munch on local Bahia grass and rye grasses and oats are planted for winter pasture. Jamie said: “Back in the day this was made with raw milk. Obviously the laws are different now. We worked with a consultant from Louisiana State University to help us formulate the recipe we use today.” When it came to a name, Jamie had some help. “We are known for our milk around here. I was at a kindergarten when the teacher asked the children where milk came from, to see if they knew it came from cows. Some kids said milk came from the store. One young boy shouted out ‘It comes from the milklady!’ That is what everybody had started calling me at the farmers’ markets so I just had to go with that name!” The Milklady Cheesecake was born.
‘Foodies’ in the Northshore area were the key customers to make the Milklady Cheesecake popular. With the Creole cream cheese also flying off the shelves, the family has also been making a whole milk plain yogurt, available for sale in the area. They also produce a small amount of farmhouse Cheddar and fromage blanc, but it’s the cheesecake that has got the local food community talking. The Mauthe family can be found at a Jackson farmers market in Mississippi and a couple of farmers’ markets over the border in Louisiana, while Kenny is also often on the road delivering. Their products are found in multiple stores, including a big regional chain. Jamie added, “There is a big Catholic community to the south of us and that means we see a spike in sales during Lent when they eat a lot more of our Creole cream cheese.”
The Mauthe’s Progress Milk Barn has another hot commodity the surrounding community can’t get enough of- butter. The quality has proven a big hit with the locals. Now Jamie and Kenny have got the family business back on the right track with wonderful milk, cream cheese, cheese cake, butter, cream and other cheeses, what next? Jamie would like to see her family continue the current success. “I think Kenny and I would like to just switch back to milk dairying. Then our children can run the cheese making side and keep the cheesecake business growing.”
You are hard pressed to find many cheese makers in Mississippi. If you count them on one hand you’ll probably still have some fingers left over. That’s why we are even more grateful the Mauthe family have bounced back from Hurricane Katrina and resurrected old Creole recipes to keep the family business running for another generation. Locals still swing by the family farm to stock up and you can too. Check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Mauthesprogressmilkbarn for the latest.