Minerva Dairy’s Venae Watts Grew Up in the Family Business and Is Now Growing It
Venae Watts, co-owner of Minerva Dairy, has inherited her grandmother’s gusto for making great Amish-style butter.
As a little girl growing up in northeastern Ohio, Venae Watts (née Mueller) was already fully immersed in the world of butter making. Watts grew up in the family business, Minerva Dairy, located in Minerva, Ohio. Before she could even reach the kitchen counter, she would prop herself up on a stack of milk crates, rolling out blocks of butter as part of her daily chores.
But even as a child, Watts didn’t mind her chores at the dairy. Rather, she embraced them — Watts was completely obsessed with all things butter, possessing an instinct that can only come from someone who has butter churning through their veins — the instinct to create the richest, creamiest batch of butter ever.
“At the dairy, we don’t look at our duties as chores— it’s just what we do,” says Watts, who is now the fifth-generation owner of Minerva Dairy with her brother, Adam. “Everyone is included in keeping the family business thriving.”
Since graduating from college, Watts has assumed her current role, spinning her lifelong butter obsession into a delicious and vibrantly designed product with six flavors and three product sizes. She and her brother succeeded their father as owners. But Watts wasn’t the first savvy woman in five generations of family ownership to make big, buttery moves.
In 1939 Watts’ grandmother, Lorraine Radloff Mueller, moved from Wisconsin to Minerva after inheriting the dairy from her grandfather. As the third-generation owner of Minerva, Lorraine faced many challenges, especially those brought on by the onset of World War II. At that time, dairy products were rationed and Minerva Dairy was often flooded with people waiting for their weekly supply. Still, Lorraine trudged forward — moving steady production of the company’s ice cream, cheese, bottled milk and butter.
Over the past 25 years in various leadership roles at Minerva Dairy, it’s become clear that Watts has inherited her grandmother’s gusto for great Amish-style butter. For her, taste is tantamount to all other factors.
“Taste is absolutely number one. It’s my favorite of the senses,” she says. “Our butter has an especially rich and complex taste. It is slightly tangy and incredibly creamy.”
For more than 125 years, Minerva Dairy has used farm-fresh milk from pasture-raised cows to turn out a time-tested product known for its distinctive 85% butterfat, slow-churned texture. Minerva Dairy is also a leader in ethical manufacturing practices. Humane treatment of cows is a top priority for the business, as is seeking out ways to reduce its carbon footprint.
Under Watts’ and her brother’s leadership, Minerva Dairy has received a bit of a makeover. Today, the company’s packaging is a playful celebration of butter — flaunting a colorful, contemporary feel with stylized retro graphics that can be spotted easily on any grocery shelf. For Watts, the new design has always been about more than just aesthetics; it’s about finding an authentic outlet for Minerva Dairy to differentiate itself and announce its century-long family-owned legacy to the world.
Minerva Dairy’s history is lush with tradition, love of process and an insatiable curiosity for achieving better butter perfection. But without the influence of strong women leaders, Minerva Dairy wouldn’t be where it is today. The impacts and changes made by Lorraine and now her granddaughter are forever woven into the fabric of the dairy’s legacy.
“My most important work is done at the kitchen table, when those I love the most come together to share struggles, dreams and ideas,” Watts says. She says her personal mission, in life and with Minerva Dairy, is to be a part of something that is bigger than her time on Earth. That, she says, is the secret to longevity — “something that outlasts you.”
After completing a full day of churning, Watts retires to her home just next door to the dairy. Built in 1942 by her grandmother, the house — like Minerva Dairy itself — is proof that Watts is already accomplishing what she’s set out to do. She’s channeled her childhood chores into a sustainable, modern business model, becoming a crucial part of something that will undoubtedly outlast her.