When Tinie Eilers first started making yogurt in her kitchen, she never dreamed it would grow into a business. Eilers, husband Hennie Bos and their two children moved to a Lacombe-area farm from Holland in 1994. In 1995, the couple set up a dairy facility with 60 Holsteins. The new farm was named Bles-Wold, a combination word made up of the first parts of the couple’s home towns.
Eilers started making yogurt for her daughter, a diabetic. She made yogurt every day in the kitchen and branched out when her brother, who had a small commercial yogurt business on his farm, sent her a pasteurizer from Holland. Eilers began selling the yogurt to neighbours and friends and found Albertans preferred a thicker, sweeter yogurt than Europeans.
Eilers began selling her yogurt at the Lacombe, Red Deer, Ponoka and Bentley farmers’ markets. A manager at a grocery store in Lacombe asked if it would be possible to sell the yogurt in store and business took off.
The Eilers-Bos family rebuilt one of their barns into a yogurt plant on the property and underwent the process to become a dairy processor.
“You have to comply with the same regulations as the big plants,” says Bos. “You’re creating a food product to be consumed by people so it has to be safe.”
Eilers originally started making a plain yogurt with no added sugars, but quickly added flavours to her repertoire in accordance with demand.
“Selling at the farmers’ markets was a way to find out what the people wanted,” she says.
Listening to feedback and talking with grocery stores helped her design and perfect the product, which is now sold at over 100 locations in Alberta and British Columbia.
The farm-style yogurt takes three days from cow to shelf. The product contains no added stabilizers or preservatives, and can be found at health food stores or in the natural products section of stores in Edmonton, Calgary, and throughout central Alberta, as well as in select stores in British Columbia.
Plain is the most popular, followed by French vanilla and strawberry. Other flavours include black cherry, blueberry, peach and apricot mango. Bles-Wold produces about 5,000 litres of yogurt each week and also makes sour cream.
The milking facility and federally approved yogurt facilities are all on site, but are located in different buildings on three quarter sections of land. Hygiene is extremely important for the operation and the facility has separate staff for the yogurt operation and the dairy operations to prevent even the tiniest possibility of contamination.
The herd of 250 cows is milked three times a day. Cows are mainly Holstein but the couple has begun crossing the Holstein with Fleckvieh, a German breed. The cows are fed a mix of corn and barley silage, alfalfa hay, barley grain, molasses, canola meal and supplement and consume about 50 kilograms of feed each day.
Raw milk is pumped from the dairy into a tank before it is taken into another room for pasteurization. The cream is separated from the milk to make a lower-fat yogurt and is used to make sour cream.
The pasteurized milk is put into stainless steel tanks which are used for pasteurization and incubation. Bles-Wold has tanks which can produce 400, 1,000 and 1,400 litres of yogurt. The tanks are heated and cooled and the culture is added to the milk when it is in the tanks.
The ph level is tested, and then water is used to cool the yogurt to stop the culture. The plain yogurt is mixed with fruit to create the flavoured yogurt using another machine. Then the yogurt is poured into cups of various sizes for retail sales and restaurants. The Eilers-Bos family and its employees have a distributor which takes the yogurt to Calgary and Edmonton, and distribute the yogurt themselves in the central region.