by Karl H. Kazaks
WADESBORO, NC – Brown Creek Creamery is a small, family-operated registered Jersey creamery in Anson County, east of Charlotte, NC. It’s also the realization of Jeff Poplin’s lifelong dream.
“I like messing with Jersey cows,” Poplin said. “In 2013 I bought a group of six-month-old heifers and raised them up. They started calving about six months before we got the barn up and going.” The barn is a double-three. Until it was ready, Poplin was milking in a stanchion barn.
The original intention was to ship milk, but as Poplin studied dairy economics, he decided he didn’t want to become large-scale – yet he had to find a way to make the finances work out.
Making cheese on the farm was the solution. “That way we could stay small and be profitable,” he said.
Luckily, Poplin’s son-in-law Jeff Stovall was willing to consider becoming the “cheese man,” permitting Poplin to focus on being the herdsman. Stovall practiced making cheese and by November 2014 they were ready to start commercial processing.
The creamery makes soft fromage, mild and aged cheddar, pepper cheddar, pimento cheese and Ole’ Buddy Blue. They also make cheese curds in flavors including Italian, original, ranch, red pepper and chipotle.
“We sell a lot of cheese curds to restaurants,” said Jennifer Stovall, Robert’s wife. “They’re popular deep fried.” The creamery has customers as far away as Hilton Head but the biggest group of them are in the Charlotte area and Southern Pines, to the east of the farm. In addition to supplying restaurants, they sell to specialty stores and farm stands.
Initially, there was an on-farm retail store. When it first opened the creamery gave out free samples to let people try the product. A couple years ago, they closed the farm store to expand their processing capabilities. The retail part of the store was transformed into the packaging center. They also upgraded their cheese equipment, from a press with weights to a pneumatic press.
The decision to close the store worked well during the pandemic, when people were concerned about visiting shared spaces.
The family is happy with how their business has grown. “We’ve never done any advertising besides social media,” Poplin said.
The barn has an interesting system for recycling wash water. There is an in-ground tank where the wash water is caught, then it’s pumped via soft and hard pipe to farther reaches of the farm.
Poplin breeds via AI and has a closed herd. “I like Jerseys because they’re high in butterfat, which we need for our cheese,” he said. “They’re also very good grazers and a very efficient breed as far as feed to milk. Also, the heat doesn’t bother them too bad.”
The animals are also halter-broke, in part because Poplin’s granddaughters are involved with showing Jerseys.
The creamery’s website is browncreekcreamery.com.