BY DOUG GRAVES
MINERVA, Ohio— Nestled in a small village of Minerva in northeast Ohio lies Minerva Dairy. The 3,720 residents of this small village are familiar with this small business, but most don’t know it’s been around since 1894; that’s 125 years, making it America’s oldest family-owned creamery.
Siblings Venae Watts (nee Mueller) and Adam Mueller represent the fifth generation of Minerva Dairy ownership. Their father, Phil Mueller, passed the baton to his children. Between their two families, there are a dozen more descendants making up the sixth generation, some of whom are also involved in the business. To put it plainly, this extended family is obsessed over butter.
“Each generation has learned from the previous one,” said Venae. “We’ve all been living the butter life, because our butter is our pride and joy. That’s what keeps us growing.”
The company, located at 430 Radloff Avenue in Minerva, dates to 1894 when Max P. Radloff launched Radloff Cheese after buying the Hustiford Creamery in Hustisford, Wisconsin. Radloff continued buying dairies around the country through the early 1900s, adding a milk factory in Minerva in 1935. The founder’s son, Max P.G. Radloff, served as the first cheese maker at the Minerva site.
By 1940 butter and cheese were being made at 36 Radloff facilities. As refrigeration and transportation improved, the Radloff family began consolidating locations. Lorraine Radloff and her husband, Delbert Mueller (Phil’s parents) managed the Minerva operation, which became Minerva Dairy in 1962.
Phil’s children, meanwhile, have 13 kids between them. Several members of the sixth generation are spending days working at the dairy and learning to hand roll the two-pound rolls of butter.
“We opened Christmas gifts in the dairy while dad unloaded the milk trucks,” Venae said. “We got rolls of butter in our stockings. We ate butter sandwiches as after school snacks. It was all about the butter.”
A family affair, yes, but this creamery is a strong local employer, too.
“We employ 65 employees here at Minerva,” Venae said. “To this day we work with local dairy farms in northeast Ohio. We take in milk from about 70 dairy farms to produce the butter and cheese. Our products are in many stores in this part of the state and we’re branching out into southwest Ohio. We also distribute from Maine to Florida and our saturation areas are Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“The best thing is that we’re actively seeking new dairy farms to add on. Our products are pasture-raised so we have certain requirements. We produce our cheese not for retail, but rather for food service customers.”
Butter is Minerva Dairy’s retail product, while cheese is sold to other companies. Minerva Dairy pulled away from the retail cheese market a few years ago and has been making cheese in 42-pound blocks. Other companies buy the cheese blocks and use them in prepared foods or package the cheese for retail distribution under another brand name. Minerva Dairy butter can be found in about 5,000 stores around the country.
Adam and Venae are celebrating their family’s 125-year milestone with new branding, new products and more distribution. They’ve made minor changes to this successful dairy. For one, the logo and packaging of the legendary 85-percent butterfat, slow-churned Amish butter now has an eye-catching new look. The rebranded packaging features stylized retro graphics and a contemporary feel that can be easily spotted on the grocery store shelf. Still, the process of making the butter hasn’t changed.
“Minerva uses only farm fresh milk from pasture-raised cows and natural ingredients to turn out a time-tested product that ensures the best quality and flavor,” Venae said.
Minerva’s core portfolio includes sea salt, unsalted, and garlic herb butter flavors with occasional seasonal offerings. The company also makes cheddar and Italian-style cheeses, including kosher Parmesan. All their products are GMO-free, antibiotic-free and gluten-free. The brand’s manufacturing plant is kosher- and halal-certified.
Any dairy farms in the vicinity that are interested in contributing to Minerva Dairy should call 330-868-4196.