By LIZ VERLEY, Staff Writer
While the creamery has been part of the Sauk Centre community for nearly a century, it has been known as the Pride of Main Street Dairy and owned by Lifeway Foods of Illinois since 2000.
Throughout the years, the creamery was known as Blue Valley Creamery, Sauk Lake Co-op, Sauk Centre Dairy and the Central Minnesota Co-op.
At present, the plant processes fluid milk. One of its specialties is the production of Helios Kefir, a probiotic drink which is a cultured milk similar to a drinkable yogurt.
According to Wikipedia, “Kefir is a probiotic fermented milk drink made with kefir grains that originated with shepherds of the North Caucasus region, who discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into a carbonated beverage.
“It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat or sheep’s milk with coffer grains. Traditional kefir was made in skin bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed.”
The kefir processed at the Pride of Main Street Dairy is from cow’s milk.
The dairy also produces a full line of regular milk, organic milk and ice cream mix.
The organic line contains milk from cows that are more grass fed than most cows and have had no antibiotics. The milk is purchased from Horizon Organic in Colorado.
The organic milk comes from approximately 22 Minnesota producers. It is processed once or twice a week as needed.
The dairy has 14 employees. Sharon Quistorff serves as the plant’s general manager and has worked at the creamery for 24 years.
“I started as an ice cream maker, and ran the bottling machine that filled the glass bottles,” she said. “I also ran the paper machine that made milk cartons. We even made milk pouches which really wasn’t the best idea.”
Quistorff said, “Now our milk is all in plastic bottles. The bottles used to be returnable. The school boards were all for using an 8-ounce bottle for milk. The kitchen workers were not fond of washing them before returning them. We soon went to non-returnable containers.
Rudy Beilke, who retired from the creamery in 2005, said, “I started as a truck driver and dumped and tested the milk. After a year or so, I filled in picking up cans from the farmers. I drove the truck three day a week and worked in the plant for three days a week. Eventually I started working with the boiler, filling the auger that took the coal to the boiler. Later I obtained my license to operate the boiler.”
“After the cans were discontinued, I drove bulk trucks. I also helped make butter. That was quite an experience. We removed the butter by hand from a big wooden churn and made it into 60 pound blocks,” said Beilke.
They also candled eggs at the plant. “Back then we had 12 to 14 employees, and it has remained about the same ever since. There was also a feed store upstairs until a shed was built,” said Beilke.
Beilke said, “I remember coming to work on Sunday mornings to begin work at 2:30. That is when a semi-load of whole milk would arrive from the Twin Cities to be separated and processed into skim milk.”
One of the highlights of working at the creamery back then, Beilke said, was the Pancake Days. “These were held as an appreciation for the members and their families. It was held once a year and they were a lot of fun. Everyone enjoyed them.”
He said, “We used to save the buttermilk, too. People would bring their own container and go in the back and draw what they wanted from the 10-pound can in the cooler.”
“Now since 9/11 things have really changed. No (visitors are) allowed to go into the back now,” said Quistorff.
The Dairy now operates five days a week.
Quistorff said, “Something that is really exciting and unique is that we have representatives of creameries from all over the world coming to Sauk Centre to see how our plant operates and to take back ideas for improvements in theirs.”
The plant also offers a retail store on site. It offers all the products produced at the dairy plus it carries Hope butter and sour cream. Heavy cream is available by special order.