Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kraft-Phenix Cheese in Ashe County, 1939

By F.H. Jeter, State College Extension Editor, printed in the West Jefferson Skyland Post, Dec. 7, 1939
The other day a group of us sat in the office of L.G. Johnson, manager of the Kraft-Phenix cheese factory at West Jefferson in Ashe County, and heard Mr. Johnson make a remarkable statement. He said that cheese manufactured in is plant from North Carolina milk won first place in quality over all other similar cheese from the various branches of the company throughout the United States.
We have been taught to regard Wisconsin or New York State as the great cheese-making centers of this nation and thus it was with great surprise that I heard Mr. Johnson make this significant statement. But Mr. F.R. Farnham, dairy specialist [from State College, Raleigh], who was with me, did not appear surprised at all. He pointed out that the grass and clovers grown on the mountain sides of Ashe County have a superior food value. There are practically no off-flavors because there are no wild onions or garlic in the pastures. The farmers keep their milk cool and fresh in cold water running from ice-cold mountain springs. The milk is yet not handled as it should be and when mountain dairy men really learn to handle their milk as do those in some of the older dairy states, even better results will be secured.
The Kraft company has built a $75,000 plant at West Jefferson. It is the largest manufacturing concern in Ashe County and about 650 patrons are sending in fresh milk each day to the cheese factory. Most of this milk comes from Ashe County though smaller amounts are brought in from Alleghany, Watauga, and Grayson County, VA. There are 15 different milk routes established and the patrons deliver about 20,000 pounds of milk a day. Before the dry fall weather began, the factory was receiving 30,000 pounds a day. Mr. Johnson said he would manufacture 500,000 pounds of cheese in 1939 which is a small drop under 1938. “The producers are paid $1.50 a hundred pounds for all milk delivered and this cash is largely clear. The milk is just what each farmer produces himself from his own cows from his own pastures and feed crops. Practically no feed is purchased.”
As in other sections where dependable markets have been assured, the farmers are also investing in good barns and are erecting modern silos. Some are still depending upon the inexpensive trench silos until their incomes warrant building the more expensive kind. Walter Pennington of Nathan’s Creek community is one grower who has used the market to improve his farm. He has a modern brick home, a good barn and silo and recently began some demonstrations in improving his pasture. Mr. Pennington was recently elected the best demonstration farmer in Ashe County. He has 87 ½ acres in his home place and milks nine Jersey and Guernsey cows. At another farm a mile or two away, he also grows beef steers for the market. But he says the sale of milk has enabled him to do many of the things he has always wanted to do.
J.R. Phipps of the Silas Creek community was another farmer visited. Mr. Phipps has just built a $3,000 barn, silo and milk room combination. He keeps about 12 or 14 Guernsey milk cows and about 10 Hereford beef animals. Like Mr. Pennington, he has a nice home, equipped with electrical power, and gets a cash income from milk, beef cattle, Irish potatoes, sheep, hogs and burley tobacco. He sells his lambs and wool in the pools organized by Mr. (C.J.) Rich (the county farm agent), and is improving his pastures by the use of limestone and phosphate. He finds that broomsage is disappearing where these materials are applied to the land.
Over the north fork of the New River, G.B. Price, a pioneer Ashe county dairyman owns Rich Hill Farm. Mr. Price was the first man in the county to own a pure bred Guernsey bull and he is now carrying 40 to 45 pure bred Guernseys on his 160-acre place. He is co-operating with the North Carolina Experiment Station to run a real test of pasture making and fertilizing and as a result is getting his grass land to where it will carry one cow per acre. Recently he sold four Guernsey heifers for $1,000 and used the money to aid in rebuilding his modern farm home. Mr. Price has an efficient milk producing plant and is regarded as one of the leaders in the new type of farming, which has come to the county.
From Ashe County government’s history site ( “The early 1900s saw much activity in the dairy industry, with cheese making factories in Grassy Creek and Beaver Creek, Sturgills, Crumpler and Ashland. Eventually, the Kraft-Phoenix Creamery established a plant in West Jefferson in the 1930s. Having had several owners, the plant is now the Ashe County Cheese Plant, for many years, the only such facility in North Carolina.”
Ashe County Cheese is on the web at

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