Estrella family optimistic about producing cheese again


The Estrella Family Creamery may soon be back to making its popular craft cheeses after a long legal battle. The family farm in Montesano was cited by the Food and Drug Administration in February 2010 because traces of listeria were found in a batch of cheese, sparking a costly and protracted legal battle and reworking of the business in an effort to hang onto the farm.

Kelli Estrella said after working with attorneys and various government agencies, the family hopes to have the creamery up and running again by mid to late summer. No major equipment changes have been required, as was feared when issues first surfaced. The minimum aging time for their cheese is 60 days, so their first batch likely wouldn’t be available until fall. It would be a hard-won victory for the family if all goes as the Estrellas hope.

“I made cheese for 25 years. You don’t just give up on something you’ve done your whole adult life,” Kelli Estrella said.

In late 2010, after tens of thousands of dollars spent on product recalls and legal fees, the Estrellas put their creamery on hold and began to convert their farm to vegetable and livestock purposes. The children learned about animal husbandry and started breeding cows, and Kelli worked on a “community supported agriculture” program. People pay a flat fee for the CSA for the season to get a box of fresh vegetables every week during the growing season. She said last year she grew vegetables for 20 families.

“This year we’re still planting the same amount of area, and we’re also going to be able to offer no-spray produce out of the garden,” Estrella said. The produce isn’t certified organic, she explained, but the family is open about how the vegetables are grown and no pesticides are used.

To help keep the farm going, Anthony Estrella has been doing electrical work in California, away from his family.

“It’s hard, we don’t like to be separated,” Kelli Estrella said. She said the hope is to keep the operation small, get the paperwork in order, and get back to making cheese as a family as soon as possible.

The farm is listed in the 2012 Food and Farm Guide from the Washington State University Extension. They’re located at 659 Wynoochee Valley Rd., Montesano.

For more information, visit estrellafamilycreamery.com or call 246-6541.

Brionna Friedrich, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3933, or by email at bfriedrich@thedailyworld.com