Their firm, Argyle Cheese Farmer, moved there from the family farmstead, about 10 miles away, where Dave’s ancestors started milking cows in the 1860s.
The transition marked the start of a new growth era for the business while letting the Randles plan for retirement by handing the reins over to new partners, John and Denise Dickinson, a few years from now. The Dickinsons own Ideal Dairy, one of eastern New York’s largest producers with a milking herd of nearly 3,000 cows.
“It works for both of us because it gives us an exit plan, but it also gives them an outlet for their milk,” Dave Randles said.
Marge Randles launched Argyle Cheese Farmer in 2007.
“We have four kids,” she said. “I’d previously spent 20-plus years running a tax and financial planning practice. I saw that capital investments in farms were going down and down. Dave was the farm’s fourth generation. I told him, ‘If it’s going to the next one, we’ve got to do something else.’”
So she signed up for a cheese making class whose instructor asked her: “Why are you doing this?”
“Why not?” Marge said.
“Because dairyman’s wives never follow through with things like this,” the instructor said.
That’s all the motivation Marge Randles needed.
“I have this terrible habit,” she said, smiling. “When somebody says I can’t do something, just you watch! That’s what got me started.”
“I didn’t know how it would go,” Dave Randles said. “We just had to give it a shot.”
“As we went along it became apparent that we needed more help with the cheese,” Marge said. “Dave was ready to stop milking cows so he sold his half to his brother and became a full-time cheese maker with me.”
High Quality Milk, High Quality Products
The new facility is housed in a former long-time family-run grocery store in the village of Hudson Falls, only a few miles from Kingsbury-based Ideal Dairy.
“They provide us with an unlimited supply of high-quality milk,” Marge said. “We make yogurt — traditional, whole milk and Greek — which we’re probably known best for plus buttermilk, five varieties of hard cheese, ice cream, gelato and dips.”
Yogurt has become the firm’s top seller.
“People call it life-changing yogurt,” Dave said. “They tell us they can’t eat any other kind. I tell people there’s three things you have to know about our yogurt. Number one, it has five active cultures. Second, it’s not homogenized, it will separate and third, it comes with a warning. The warning is that you’ll never go back to commercial yogurt. People laugh at me, but the next week they’re back and say, ‘That was the most awesome yogurt I’ve ever had!’”
All Argyle Cheese Farmer products are made strictly with A2 milk from a select group of 250 cows at Ideal Dairy.
“It still has lactose, but for some people it’s much easier to digest,” Marge said.
At the Randles’ farm, everything was made with a 150-gallon vat.
“We’d grown to a point where we couldn’t make enough and we were being inefficient,” she said. “We needed major improvements to the building. We didn’t have the utilities we needed, no three-phase power or natural gas. A lot of things were holding back growth.”
The former supermarket was gutted and completely made over. Now Argyle Cheese Farmer’s spacious processing room has four large vats with total capacity of 2,000 gallons for buttermilk and yogurt making, plus another 560-gallon cheese vat.
On a weekly basis the facility is able to process 100 pounds of milk, 900 pounds of cheese, 1,700 pounds of whole milk yogurt, 900 pounds of Greek yogurt, and 1,000 pounds of buttermilk.
Customers are greeted by an attractive retail store whose coolers are stocked full of locally produced items including things such as honey and maple syrup from other farms. In addition, shoppers may see cheese and yogurt being made through large pane glass windows in a special viewing room, whose walls are covered with information about Argyle Cheese Farm, Ideal Dairy and the overall industry. A video shows how and where milk is produced.
The new facility also includes an immaculate kitchen and 3,000-square-foot warehouse area.
By expanding operations, Argyle Cheese Farmer’s employment doubled to more than 20 workers.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball recognized the Randles’ and Dickinsons’ achievements by touring both of their operations to celebrate Dairy Month, observed annually in June.
“This gives us all an opportunity to recognize New York’s tremendous dairy farmers and dairy manufacturers who are producing and processing some of the very best dairy products in the world,” he said.
Ball touted state initiatives such as its Farmland Protection program and Nourish New York, which provided dairy products to food banks across the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, for helping New York farmers.
Prior to the health crisis, two large distributors supplied Argyle Cheese Farmer products to New York City restaurants and coffee houses, which accounted for 46% of the firm’s wholesale market. These sales quickly dried up when the pandemic hit and Big Apple eateries closed.
“That was a bit of a shocker,” Marge Randles said. “But we’ve always had relationships with other businesses, especially ones that do home deliveries so that business picked way up in 2020. We built a website so people could pre-order things. New York City is starting to come back now. It’s not there yet, but our local and regional business has come back, too. Plus we do farmers markets in Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs and Troy.”
Marge said she’s confident the Dickinsons will have no trouble finding outlets for Argyle Cheese Farmer products, long after she and her husband have left the business.
“There’s a market,” she said. “The market is always changing. Trends are changing. You just have to stay on top of it.”