The Koch family of Canby, Ore., started their registered dairy program in 1987, extending it 10 years later to their latest dairy adventure — a new commercial creamery and line of farmstead cheeses.
Todd Koch bought his first Holstein heifer in 1987 to begin the dairy program on the family’s 50 acres adjacent to a rural highway near Canby. A growing herd prompted the building in 1997 of a dairy facility just off the highway.
With the help of a grant through Chase Bank’s Mission Main Street program, Koch said he and the family were able to “speed up our five-year plan by over 36 months” in building a commercial creamery and begin producing the cheeses.
Today, Koch, wife Tessa, brother Marc, and sister Shauna Garza are the principals in a business that features TMK Creamery and its products, TMK Farm near Klamath Falls and its 800 acres of feed production and a variety of beef products through TMK Meat Co.
Education has been a well-used word that Todd Koch still uses in describing the family’s personal goals and business plans.
“The ‘why’ for this whole project is education,” Tessa said. The creamery is “open seven days a week for agri-tourism. We have the Oregon Culinary Institute come out because (for them) the quality of the ingredients is everything.”
Visitors all the way down to preschoolers can milk a cow and follow the process through to the finished products.
“We built the plant to make cheese because we wanted to be (an educational) resource for the community in knowing where their food comes from and giving people access to real farm production for those who don’t get to see it like they used to years ago,” she said.
“We broke ground in September of 2016 and were making cheese by April of 2017,” Todd said. The creamery’s motto for those on tour is, “See the farm, feel the connection, trust the process.”
Todd said TMK had been shipping their fluid milk to the Farmers Cooperative Creamery in McMinnville, but in 2014 “we kind of decided we wanted to go a different direction. My sister (Shauna Garza) was interested in making cheese.”
Garza educated herself as a cheesemaker through Oregon State University’s pilot plant creamery learning to craft artisan cheese products.
As she was learning the craft, Todd and Tessa were concentrating on their building plans for the 3,600-square-foot creamery.
Marc Koch is the company’s “chief dairyman,” Todd said, meaning he is in charge of taking care of TMK’s Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows.
“We always want to focus on the cow being the real hero of the story in order to make quality milk,” he said.
Bert Garza, Shauna’s husband, helps create and produce the cheeses in the processing plant, about 100 pounds of cheese each day. The types of cheeses TMK Creamery produces currently include cheddar, gouda, Fromage Blanc, cheddar curds, Queso Fresco and a variety of cold-smoked cheeses.
They also produce a specialty product, a single-cow cheese, as well as TMK Vodka, which is distilled in Salem with the creamery’s whey.