Laurel's Crown

Located in the Knapps-Coulee Valley just outside Lake Chelan, Washington, Laurel’s Crown are artisan cheesemakers bringing our dream of an organic farmstead and micro-dairy to life!

| Road of Dreams

Laurel’s Crown is a tiny creamery in the Knapps-Coulee Valley just outside Lake Chelan here in Washington. They describe themselves as, “artisan cheesemakers bringing our dream of an organic farmstead and micro-dairy to life.” They are actively working to build their ideal farmstead creamery–a journey that has been long but enriching!

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown.

| Organic By Design

Laurel’s Crown is a small creamery. Right now they are just milking six jersey cows, who are 100-percent grass-fed. Although the farm operates using organic principles and standards for animal husbandry, the grass the cows eat, and their cheesemaking practices, they have opted not to become Certified Organic. The reason for this—which is common among many farmstead producers who run organic operations—is the high cost of certification. The cheese they make is still organically produced, just not certified by a third-party auditor.

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown

| Variety's the Spice

Like many of our state’s cheesemakers, Laurel’s Crown is a farmstead creamery. That means their cows’ milk goes straight from the cow to the cheesemaking room without ever leaving the farm. Once the cheese arrives at the make room and is pasteurized, it is made into several types of cheese: Badger Mt. Blue, Sweet Summer Gouda (a seasonal offering), Bebé, Jersey Girl Tomme, Luck of the Irish (a Tomme with curds washed in Irish Prizefighter Stout from Lake Chelan Brewing).

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown

| Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Laurel’s Crown is a small, family-owned and -run creamery. Laurie Neal is the head cheesemaker, and her husband, Mark, is what Laurie calls “the do it all guy.” They have one part-time farmhand, Tiernan, who is also the president of the Chelan High School’s FFA Chapter. And then there is Hank, the Cowdog, another valued member of the team, and the stars of the show, the cows. While Hank, Tiernan, and the cows are hard at work in the pastures, the rest of the team has been busy building a permanent creamery building with a farm store.

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown

| Hobby, Then Profession

The head cheesemaker at Laurel’s Crown, Laurie Neal had always been intrigued by the idea of making cheese, but didn’t start pursuing it seriously for a long time. “I was busy with kids and had no idea where to get supplies,” she says. “In 2008, I read ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver.  In it she referenced New England Cheesemaking as a resource for supplies. I played around a little bit, and soon my dining room was a cheese make facility with two refrigerators and stainless steel shelving.  After a couple of years, we decided it was something I could do commercially.”

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown.

| Learning On the Job

After mastering home cheesemaking, Laurel’s Crown cheesemaker Laurie Neal applied herself to learning about commercial cheesemaking, attending the Basic Cheese Making Short Course at WSU in 2010 and the Advanced Cheese Making Short Course in 2011. In 2013, she spent three days with Gianaclis Caldwell at Pholia Farm in Oregon. “It was excellent information for a small operation like I had in mind,” Laurie says. Laurie also took the opportunity during the COVID-19 pandemic to attend several classes through the California Artisan Cheese Guild with Dr. Moshe Rosenberg at UC Davis. One of the most exciting things about cheesemaking is that there is always something new to learn—and Laurie has definitely caught the learning bug!

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown.

| Improvising Their Way

In 2012, the dairy from which Laurel’s Crown had been sourcing their cheese milk offered them the opportunity to set up operations a creamery on their property. Mark Neal started renovating a 48-foot semi trailer into a cheese facility there. Laurel’s Crown became licensed in 2014 and started making cheese with organic, grass-fed Jersey cow’s milk. They wanted to become more independent, so they purchased a property on Highway 97A five miles from lake Chelan. “We got the water, septic, electricity in…Then…COVID!” Laurie says. Because construction ground to a halt, it wasn’t until June 2022 that the new creamery could complete the licensing process. “We are currently in production but have not yet begun sales,” Laurie says. “We are currently using the semi-trailer facility as well as a second semi-trailer that houses our pasteurizer, bulk tanks and clean up facility.  Currently our equipment rides on a converted portable toilet trailer each morning to the milking parlor. Our production will be smaller than in our past location but we wanted to transition to farmstead and build a house on the farm.”

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown.

| An Elusive Commodity

Although you can’t currently find Laurel’s Crown’s cheeses for sale, they are planning to make them available next year through a number of locations. They will do sales from the farm, eventually out of the farm store they are building in their permanent creamery building. They also supply a number of wineries with “nosh packs” for wine tasters to munch on while they sip. While Laurel’s Crown will not be shipping cheese out-of-state, they will be looking for retailers to sell their cheese. They are also planning to sell cheese at the Chelan and Manson farmers markets.

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown.

| They're Somebody's Favorite

When asked which of Laurel’s Crown’s cheeses is her favorite, Laurie Neal says, “I really don’t have a favorite, primarily because I only make what I like!” That said, Laurel’s Crown has received some accolades for the quality of their cheeses. In 2017, Bebé received a Good Food Award, and Badger Mt. Blue received a silver medal at the World Cheese Awards in London.

Image courtesy of Laurel’s Crown.

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