SANDIA, Texas — For nearly 100 years, Knolle Dairy Farms has operated in Sandia. The farm has been in commercial milk production since 1928. At one point, it was the world’s largest herd of Jersey cattle, milking 7,000-8,000 heads of cattle, operating on 10,000 acres of land. Recently, the farm began a new venture; processing and selling its own dairy products.
The plan for an on-site processing facility started around four years ago. After 22 months of construction, the project was finished in 2020, and Knolle Dairy Farms began selling homemade cheese in November.
However, the project almost didn’t make it to completion. The pandemic was rough on the dairy industry, with prices for products dropping overnight, and it was almost devastating for husband and wife owners Joe Knolle Jr. and Christina Knolle.
“It was a rocky road, there were a lot of things happening. Obviously, we cut production, we cut a lot of our revenue stream to do it, and that hurt financially. If we had not been so far along with the construction process, it would have probably just sunk us financially and made more sense to just shut the doors down and eliminate the dairy,” said Knolle Jr.
People reached out to lend a helping hand during the beginning of the pandemic, offering to purchase anything from the farm to help out. Knolle Jr. could not reveal what they had been working on, so he thanked those people for their generosity.
In the few short months since the production and selling of cheese, Knolle Jr. said public reception has been amazing.
“It’s been overwhelming, the amount of support that’s come to give us some business right out of the starting blocks with what we’re trying to do here. I had no idea that there were so many people in South Texas that were so passionate about farm fresh dairy products,” he said.
The cows are milked, the milk is pasteurized and the product is processed and sold all on the farm within about 200 feet. The whole process takes 24-48 hours to complete. A lot of the appeal in the product is that it is local, and that customers can see the whole process right on the farm; with the cheese-making process visible from right in the store.
“We have the cows out and the calves out where the public can see them. Go out for a little walking tour out there, and really visualize that we’re out here at the farm. There are the cows, there’s the dairy, there’s the plant, this is how it all works, and it’s really something you’re not going to see anywhere else,” Knolle Jr. said.
After a lot of uncertainty during the beginning of the pandemic, Knolle Jr. said having this new venture has brought a new happiness into their lives.
“As farmers and as dairy farmers, we go through a lot of ups and downs in our lives that really make things difficult. Instead of waiting for another miserable milk check to come in one day, that we don’t even know what it’s going to be, it’s a completely different paradigm that you have to embrace, and I’ll tell you, cheese is making us smile right now,” he said.
Knolle Dairy Farms sells their products right on the farm, located at 940 Country Road 360, in Sandia; the store is typically open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They also send some products to high-end butcher shops in the area to be sold. The hope is to expand to more products and services in the coming months.
To anyone who has bought even a single wedge of cheese from them, Joe Jr. and Christina have a heartfelt message:
“Thank you for your patronage. You do not understand how huge a single purchase is for us in the endeavor, and thank you for spreading the word, and thank you for trusting us to provide fresh dairy products for your table,” Knolle Jr. said.
For more information and updates on the farm, check out their Facebook page.