Bongards' Creameries began as a small local creamery, helping farmers to process their milk. Since its beginning in 1908, it has grown to include satellite factories in Perham and Humboldt, Tennessee. It has also increased its range of products to include cheese and whey. In the twenty-first century, Bongards' Creameries is among the largest cheese-making plants in the world.
The Carver County site where Bongards' Creameries is located once held a skimming station. This structure was destroyed in 1908. Soon after, a group of local farmers got together to form a new cooperative (coop) creamery. They began construction on a twenty-six by one hundred foot creamery building in November of 1908.
This new coop creamery opened its doors in February of 1909. Fred W. Hedtke, who had helped to operate the former skimming station, was hired as chief butter maker and manager. He held that position for the next thirty years, until heart trouble forced him into retirement in June 1938.
When Fred Hedtke retired, Burnell E. (Jack) Budahn became plant manager. He would hold this position for the next fifty years. This stable, long-term management helped Bongards' Creamery prosper and become a dairy industry leader.
Bongards' Creameries started with making butter in 1909. In 1942, the factory began producing natural (unprocessed) cheese. Whey products, such as whey powder, were added in 1945. Processed cheese manufacturing was added to the product line in 1976. Although cheese and whey are still made in the early twenty-first century, butter making was discontinued around the 1970s, when it was decided it cost too much to replace the equipment needed relative to the amount of butter being sold. In the early days, all coop members took turns working in the factory to make these products, until expansion and success created the need for the coop to hire permanent factory workers.
In 1942, Bongards' Creameries expanded for the first time. The expansion included an office, laboratory, cheese-making room, and a new refrigerated storeroom. In 1949, the creamery expanded again, making Bongards' Creameries one of the largest cheese factories in the world. By 1951, the factory was producing nearly 1,000,000 pounds of cheese per month. There have been many expansions since then, including satellite factories in Perham in 2003 and Humboldt, Tennessee in 2010.
In 1958, Bongards' Creameries celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, highlighting a few production milestones. When Bongards' began in 1908, twenty-five coop members brought milk to the creamery. By 1958, nearly one thousand of them delivered milk there. By 1938, the plant was processing 7,000,000 pounds of milk. By 1958, production had expanded so greatly the plant was processing nearly twenty times what they were in 1938.
1968 was another important year for the plant. That year, Bongards' Creameries, and manager Jack Budahn, introduced their patented "automated continuous system. " This machine uses all parts of the milk to make cheese and whey products. It covers two floors. The machine first mixes rennet and milk to form curds. It then salts the curds and separates out butterfat, whey and water to be used in other products. The water is used on nearby farmland. The finished product is forty pound cheese blocks. In 1987, progress continued by expanding the continuous cheddaring machine into a second room, with the first devoted to cheddaring and milling the cheese curd, the second to salting the milled curd.
A setback occurred at the creamery in 1969. An explosion at the plant in 1969, thought to be caused by a buildup of gas in one of the warehouses. It destroyed two buildings and badly damaged five more. Total damage was estimated at $750,000, but the creamery rapidly repaired and rebuilt.
In the twenty-first century, Bongards' Creameries remains a cooperative creamery and a leader in the dairy industry. The creamery hosts many visitors every year. Tourists purchase milk products and souvenirs from the creamery store, and have their pictures taken with the large fiberglass cow out front, purchased from a company in Sparta, Wisconsin in October 1970.
"Bongards Co-op Creamery Now One of World's Largest Cheese Factories- And Still Growing." Norwood Times, August 26, 1949.
"Bongards Creamery Now Produces Nearly 1,000,000 lbs. of Cheese Per Month." Norwood Times, June 8, 1951.
"Bongards Creamery Purchased the Black & White Holstein Replica Cow from a Firm in Sparta, Wisc." Waconia Patriot, October 17, 1970.
Carver County Statehood Centennial Committee. Carver County Today and Yesterday, Minnesota Statehood Centennial 1858–1958. 1958.
"Explosion Rocks Bongards." Norwood Times, December 25, 1969.
Hobart, Randall. "World's First Automated Continuous System-Cheesemaker Uses All the Parts of Milk." Minneapolis Star, December 26, 1968.
Honer, Clem. "Bongard's Installs a Continuous Cheddaring Machine Including a Brine System for Salting Curd." Cheese Market News, September 25, 1987.
Nagel, Karen. Bongards' Creameries Office Manager, interview, March 8, 2013.
———. Bongards' Creameries Office Manager, email message to author, March 28, 2013.
———. Bongards' Creameries Office Manager, email message to author, April 12, 2013.
Olson, Steve. Memories: Burnell E. (Jack) Budahn, 50 Years as Manager of Bongards Creameries. [Minnesota: s.n., 1988].
Peterson, George. "Bongards Creameries Explodes From Bust to Boom." Minneapolis Star, May 27, 1973.
In 1938, Burnell E. (Jack) Budahn is hired as the manager of Bongards' Creameries, beginning fifty years of stable management and innovation and allowing Bongards' to prosper as one of the largest cheese-making factories in the world.
A group of local farmers gathers together to form a cooperative creamery, and begins construction on a creamery building.
The new cooperative creamery, named Bongards' Creameries after the nearby community, opens its doors for business. Fred W. Hedtke is chief butter maker and manager.
Butter is the first product made by Bongards' Creameries.
Health problems force Fred W. Hedtke to retire as manager at the creamery.
Burnell E. (Jack) Budahn becomes plant manager at Bongards' Creameries, a position he would hold for the next fifty years.
The factory processes seven million pounds of milk this year.
Bongards' Creameries begins production of natural, unprocessed, cheese.
The first physical expansion of Bongards' Creameries occurs, which includes an office, laboratory, cheese-making room, and a new refrigerated storeroom.
Whey products, like whey powders, are added to the Bongards' Creameries product line.
The creamery is expanded a second time. It is now hailed as one of the largest cheese factories in the world.
Bongards' Creameries produces nearly one million pounds of cheese each month.
The fiftieth anniversary of Bongards' Creameries. Nearly one thousand patrons deliver milk to the creamery.
Bongards' Creameries and manager Jack Budahn introduce the "automated continuous system", which uses all the parts of milk to make cheese and whey products.
An explosion occurs at the factory, due to a build-up of gas. Two buildings are destroyed and five others badly damaged. The cost of damages is estimated at $750,000.
A large fiberglass cow is purchased from a company in Sparta, Wisconsin and placed in front of the factory.
Processed cheese manufacturing is added to the Bongards' Creameries product line.
Bongards' Creameries expands its automated continuous cheddaring machine.
Bongards' Creameries opens a plant in the city of Perham.
Bongards' Creameries opens a second branch factory in the city of Humboldt, Tennessee.