Flathead Lake Cheese

Location: Polson, MT
Grant: $9,222
Technology: Solar


After losing their jobs in the wake of 9/11, Wendi and Joe Arnold left their home in Arizona and headed north to Montana on a quest to become cheesemakers, building on Joe’s Wisconsin childhood. They named their business after the lake near their new home in Polson, and Flathead Lake Cheese was born, along with a one-of-a-kind REAP project.

Learning from a neighboring car wash that installed a solar thermal system to heat their water, the Arnolds explored a solar project for their new business. They had already employed energy efficient innovations, such as a flat plate heat exchanger to recover and reuse heat from milk while cooling it. Using clean solar energy was the next step.

Their solar project plans grew from an initial idea to heat water to a more expansive proposal to use solar heat for pasteurizing their milk. Their goal is to produce cheese using entirely solar pasteurized milk. The Arnolds believe they are the only solar pasteurization project in the country.

Flathead Lake Cheese received a $9,200 grant in 2010 to install a five-panel solar thermal system on the roof of their bright yellow building.

“In addition to saving money on energy, the solar project also helped to give us an identity,” Joe said. “It’s something we believe in. I see it as a good business move.” The project delivered other side benefits, such as saving on space for boilers.
“The technology is only going to get better when there’s more people like us seeing what solar can do — not just what it does right now,” Wendi said. “We’ve been able to prove that even in northwest Montana, we still have enough solar energy to use this system. We find that very exciting.”