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Industry ready to work with Biden toward common goals

January 22, 2021

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden took his oath of office Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol, making him the 46th U.S. president. Kamala Harris also was sworn in as the 49th vice president, making history as the nation’s first female vice president, the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history, the first African American vice president and the first Asian American vice president.

Dairy industry stakeholders expressed their congratulations to the new administration, as well as a desire to work together toward common goals.

“Inaugurations represent new beginnings and new opportunities. This is especially important today, as we begin this journey at a time of turmoil that has intensified in recent months and weeks,” says Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. “We in dairy offer our own commitment to work on a bipartisan basis for progress on issues important to dairy farmers, their cooperatives and the greater good. We also look forward to engaging with the broader agricultural community to meet our common challenges and build a thriving rural America that lifts the entire nation.”

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), says President Biden and his new administration have rightly prioritized the nation’s health and well-being in the midst of a pandemic — goals the dairy industry shares.

“IDFA offers our partnership in finding creative ways to reduce hunger, improving access to nutritious foods including dairy, bridging the rural-urban divide in our nation and improving access to vaccines for our essential food industry workers,” Dykes says. “We also look forward to supporting the new administration’s sustainability efforts through unleashed innovation and a continued commitment to leaving future generations with better opportunities than we had ourselves. On behalf of the men and women working across the dairy industry — from farms to processing facilities to distribution hubs and retail — IDFA looks forward to working with President Biden, Vice President Harris and other members of the new administration. Together, we can enhance economic progress for food-producing communities, strengthen export opportunities and create a more sustainable footprint for our food and agriculture sector.”

In his first hours as president, President Biden issued a flurry of executive orders and policy proposals covering a wide range of issues.

National Farmers Union (NFU) says of particular interest is Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. NFU, which long has advocated aggressive climate mitigation, called the previous administration’s move to withdraw from the pact a “shameful mistake.” It comes as a great relief that the Biden administration has prioritized this issue on day one, NFU says.

NFU was similarly pleased by the release of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a comprehensive immigration plan that offers undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, fast-tracking “Dreamers” as well as farm workers and other essential workers. This approach aligns with NFU’s official immigration policy, which supports bipartisan efforts that address the needs of businesses while protecting the interests of workers, says NFU President Rob Larew.

The American Dairy Coalition (ADC) also praised Biden’s immigration reform bill, which ADC notes, if passed, could offer undocumented farm workers a pathway to citizenship.

“One of the key points in his proposal is a citizen pathway which would allow qualifying immigrants to receive green cards and then their full citizenship status within eight years,” ADC says, noting only undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2021, are eligible, with a few exceptions.

Based on the 2017 Census of Agriculture data, the United States has 2.4 million farm workers. Some of these people have work authorizations and some are U.S. citizens. The Department of Homeland Security as well as the Department of Labor will pull together labor, employers and civil rights organizations to improve the employment verification process. Increased penalties for employers who violate labor laws also would be included, ADC says.

It is uncertain at this time if the House and Senate will obtain enough votes for this bill to pass even though the Democrats now control both of these houses. ADC says it will continue to closely watch this bill as additional details are disclosed.
National Restaurant Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Sean Kennedy says the National Restaurant Association also stands in support of the immigration bill.

“The restaurant industry today reflects the cultural traditions and hard work of immigrants who come to America seeking a better life. They add to the vast diversity that makes our smallest to largest restaurants cornerstones of their communities. The National Restaurant Association continues to support comprehensive immigration reform that expands opportunities for businesses seeking employees and immigrants pursuing the American Dream, and we applaud President Biden for making it a top priority,” Kennedy says.

“We encourage Congress and the administration to provide a pathway for legalization; create an effective essential worker program to meet workforce needs; secure our borders while facilitating efficient travel and tourism; and implement a reliable federal employment verification program,” he adds. “Our industry looks forward to working with all parties to find a unified approach to lasting immigration policies and reforms.”

Meanwhile, in an address to the nation last week, Biden detailed a $1.9 trillion plan meant to speed vaccine distribution and address immediate economic crises, noting that a broader relief plan will come in February.

The proposal, dubbed the “American Rescue Plan,” includes $20 billion to support the hiring of another 100,000 health care workers and opening of vaccine centers and mobile clinics nationwide.

Biden also is proposing $1,400 direct stimulus payments to Americans, a $400-per-week unemployment benefits enhancer to last through September 2021, $15 billion in grants to small businesses, and as much as $175 billion in low-interest business loans. The plan earmarks $350 billion in aid to state and local governments to address other coronavirus concerns as well.

Kennedy says while the association applauds the “laser focus” from Biden on defeating the pandemic and restoring the families and businesses that have been devastated over the past 10 months, when it comes to the restaurant and foodservice industry, the Biden plan may cause more harm than good.

“We appreciate the targeted support for our industry and look forward to learning more about the (plan). We urge the administration to consider greater inclusion of initiatives like the Senate version of the RESTAURANTS Act. Working together, this country can stop the growing number of shuttered restaurants and the millions of workers still without jobs,” Kennedy says.

“The support in the proposal is overshadowed by the possibility that, at a time when restaurants are spending more to keep their doors open, they may also have to balance a dramatic hike in labor costs,” he adds. “As the pandemic has highlighted, the economic realities of each state are very different. A nationwide increase in the minimum wage will create insurmountable costs for many operators in states where restaurant jobs are most needed for recovery. And the elimination of the tipped wage could lead to thousands of skilled hospitality workers seeing cuts in their hourly income. Changes in wage policy should be considered by Congress on a separate track from an economic recovery plan.”

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U.S. dairy sheep industry looks at ways to improve production

January 22, 2021

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Trends and consumer demand for nutrient-dense, high-protein and unique specialty foods have helped to elevate cheese, fresh and cultured dairy products and dairy ingredients. Within these products, one niche that is often overlooked but holds lots of untapped potential is sheep dairy.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), sheep milk has higher fat and protein content than goat and cow milk (only buffalo and yak milk contain more fat).

“The high protein and overall solid content of sheep milk make it particularly appropriate for cheese and yogurt making,” FAO notes in its resource on milk composition of various animal sources.

FAO adds that sheep milk is important in the Mediterranean region, where most of it is processed into cheeses such as Pecorino, Caciocavallo and Feta. Most sheep milk is produced in the Mediterranean region, and most dairy sheep breeds are found in this region and the Near East.

Compared to dairy cows and even goats, there is very little information available in the United States on sheep milk production, numbers or farms. Resources for dairy sheep producers also are sparse. University of Wisconsin-Madison, the only institution in the country that had a dairy sheep program, discontinued this research in 2016 due to budget cuts.

“The origins of the U.S. sheep dairy industry were in the Great Lakes region, where DSANA (Dairy Sheep Association of North America) was formed,” says Rebecca King, owner of Garden Variety Cheese and Monkeyflower Ranch in Royal Oaks, California, where she tends a flock of about 90 ewes and makes sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt that is sold locally in the Bay Area.

King notes that Wisconsin is home to the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative, which supplies sheep milk to a number of cheesemakers. New York, home to Old Chatham Creamery, as well as Vermont also are major areas of sheep milk cheese production. Additionally, she says dairy sheep farms have started popping up more on the West Coast, and California now has about 10 licensed sheep dairies in addition to quite a few unlicensed, small-scale dairies.

Eliza Spertus is farm manager for Green Dirt Farm, Weston, Missouri, which her mother, Sarah Hoffman, started nearly 20 years ago. In 2008, Green Dirt Farm started commercial cheese production, and its sheep and mixed-milk cheeses now are distributed across the United States and have won several awards.

Spertus explains her mother initially started with sheep since the land she had purchased was on river bluffs and very hilly and erodible, making it less ideal for crops or grazing cows but more suitable and sustainable for sheep. In addition to advantages for the land, she notes sheep’s milk has several advantages for cheesemaking.

“Sheep’s milk is higher in all components — higher in calcium, amino acids and also higher in solids — you get less milk, but more of the good stuff,” Spertus says. “The advantage in sheep when making cheese is a much higher (cheese) yield. You get more per-gallon of milk than cow’s from a cheesemaker’s perspective, and that makes sheep’s milk much more ideal.”

At one point, Green Dirt Farm was milking about 200 ewes, but Spertus has more recently made a concerted effort to focus on higher-quality production from more select sheep. Currently the farm milks about 80 ewes, with the goal to eventually increase to about 150.

“In any dairy, if you can milk 80 and get the same amount as 100, it’s better,” Spertus says. “My main focus now is to improve the flock, genetics and production capabilities we have.”

Resources for sheep dairies looking to start up or improve are “pretty limited,” King notes, which makes collaboration within the dairy sheep community important.

“Most of the research and publications out there are European or Israeli, and are often not in English or available,” she explains. “There’s the DSANA symposium every year, but resources for dairy sheep producers are few and far between. The typical extension agent is not going to be much help. As an industry, we’ve always been very cooperative and collaborative.”

• Emerging projects

While there are not many formal resources available for dairy sheep operations, some in the industry are looking to change that. King currently is coordinating a project through DSANA that sends milk samples from individual producers to a lab in Canada to help analyze milk production and content such as fat, protein and other traits. As this project grows, the aim is to help producers select better animals and genetics to improve milk production and profitability. While sheep milk is higher in fat and other components, sheep also are one of the lower-yielding animals for milk volume.

“We’ve been limited by the low production of animals we’ve had to this point,” King says, noting that a lot of new dairy sheep producers haven’t been able to get their businesses going due to low production.

King points to a DSANA survey last year that included both U.S. and Canadian dairy sheep operations. It showed Canadian farms had significantly higher milk production ­— 924 pounds — than American sheep dairies, which averaged 618 pounds per season per animal. However, with new sheep genetics that recently have been imported and introduced in the United States, King says dairy sheep could be capable of producing up to 1,500 pounds per year.
“There’s a lot of potential for improvement,” she says. “If we can raise production by a couple hundred pounds — a 20% improvement — for me, that would mean milking fewer animals, less labor, feed costs, management and so many other overhead costs.”

In addition to the sheep milk component analysis project, King also recently applied for a Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education (SARE) grant to help dairy sheep producers in Western states work with researchers from University of California, Davis, to improve production and farm management.

On the East Coast, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) is funding a dairy goat and sheep market research project via the new USDA Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC), which represents 10 Northeast states. The center also is eyeing potential of converting cow dairy farms to sheep or goat farms based on demand for these products.

“Understanding the consumer landscape and growth opportunities for goat and sheep milk products is a first step in supporting the development of that specific part of the dairy economy,” says Laura Ginsburg, agricultural development section chief, VAAFM. “Here in Vermont we have seen increasing interest and processor need for additional sheep and goat milk.”

Through a competitive bid process, VAAFM has selected Atlantic Corp. in Maine to research this opportunity with three distinct areas of focus: market analysis including a consumer study of New England states; a business-to-business industry survey to understand trends in pricing and sales across market channels, opportunities across different distribution models, review successful marketing strategies and assess current innovative practices; and development of an interactive data dashboard.

“Based on the full results from this study, the DBIC will direct additional funding to supporting the regional development of this sector,” Ginsburg says. “We see a number of possible opportunities coming forward and have planned a joint venture with Vermont Creamery to better understand the specifics of transitioning farms from cows to goats.”

King believes if U.S. dairy sheep producers can improve their milk quantities and overcome economic hurdles, there is great promise for increasing offerings to U.S. consumers who are looking for more digestible dairy options or higher-end cheese and cultured products.

“A significant number of my customers at farmer’s markets are familiar with sheep milk because they learned it is something they can eat when they have had to cut cow’s milk out of their diets. There also is growing awareness of sheep milk because of its superior flavor, and yogurt is a unique specialty product,” she says. “I think there is growing opportunity — a huge amount of sheep cheese is imported from Europe. There is consumer demand, if we can get production to a level that can compete economically.”

• Product demand

Marc A.H. Beck, former executive vice president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, recently has begun researching opportunities for the U.S. dairy sheep industry and how it could help meet growing demand both domestically and abroad. During 2016, Beck says he began to pick up on emerging growth of global demand for sheep and goat milk, driven particularly by growing consumer interest in goat, sheep and blended milk cheeses. When he retired a year ago, he started to look more closely at the opportunity with special interest in the demand expansion for sheep milk products in the domestic U.S. market.

“In the U.S., there is a big black hole in terms of understanding the sheep industry and the potential market for sheep milk products,” Beck says. “This is based on an historic approach of a sheep milk industry focused on lamb, meat, wool and pelts. Nobody has really looked at the emergence of sheep milk products in a strategic holistic manner.”

Interest in U.S. sheep milk cheeses, he notes, mainly has been driven by farmstead operators producing artisanal products.

“While that is very good, it was mostly centered on small-scale production, with commercialization achieved through farmer’s markets and in recent time through a few downstream artisanal cheesemakers and companies,” Beck says. “We do have a number of companies that have done a good job in developing brand identity and quality for sheep and blended milk cheeses and received recognition at the International and World Cheese Awards for cheese quality, taste and presentation.”

Beck estimates that the United States imports about 30,000 metric tons of sheep and goat cheeses each year, while domestic manufacture of these cheeses stands around 1,200 metric tons.

“It doesn’t take much to say to yourself that if there is more than 25,000 tons of current demand, growing at 3-4% a year, then there is a very sound opportunity to build a domestic ovine cheese industry based upon an import displacement strategy,” he says.

Beck suggests that dairy sheep also could be complementary to cow dairy farms and practices, providing high-value supplemental income, or a means for smaller cow dairies to transition to a less competitive market for their milk.

He proposes the need for a public-private initiative that could undertake comprehensive research to lay out the opportunity, quantify the “size of price” and develop recommendations on how to create an opportunity to benefit U.S. agriculture as well as develop a new and undeveloped income stream for rural America. He believes USDA could look at how the sheep industry can be developed as a new income stream for U.S. farmers, helping to develop a supply and production stream to supply the large demand for sheep milk cheeses in the United States and possibly even ingredients and nutritional products for export.

“It is important to recognize that the United States is the largest consumer of sheep cheeses in the world,” he says. “Why is there not a more concerted effort in developing this untapped market that’s import-reliant to the benefit of the U.S. agriculture community?”

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USDA announces contracts for Round 5 of food box program

January 22, 2021

WASHINGTON — USDA this week announced it has approved contracts for the additional purchase of Farmers to Families food boxes. These contract awards are part of the fifth round of the program announced Jan. 4 for deliveries through the end of April. A full list of approved suppliers is posted on the Farmers to Families Food Box Program webpage at www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box.

In total, USDA has distributed more than 133 million food boxes in support of American farmers and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The additional funding for the program was included in the COVID-19 relief package as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed Dec. 21, 2020. In this fifth round of purchases, USDA will again purchase combination boxes to ensure all involved recipient organizations have access to fresh produce, dairy products, fluid milk and meat products. Seafood products also will be included in this round.

USDA will purchase up to $1.5 billion worth of food for delivery through the end of April in this round. Reports indicate that this announcement is only for the first four weeks of the program. Vendors will reportedly receive additional awards for March and April delivery as long as they meet quality and logistics standards during the initial deliveries; while this is not explicitly mentioned in the USDA announcement, HighGround Dairy says it believes this is the approach USDA is taking based on information from those involved in food box procurement and distribution.

USDA also has announced changes to foods allowed in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The COVID-19 stimulus bill allocated $322.5 million for food purchases via this program throughout 2021, but initially, dairy products were not included in the allowed foods list. Via the Federal Register, milk (UHT and refrigerated) and cheese (American and Cheddar) now will be available for distribution using this funding.

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Wiskerchen’s addition of All Star LLC presents promising new opportunity

AUBURNDALE, Wis. — John Wiskerchen, managing director and part of the third-generation family owners of Wiskerchen Cheese Inc., says his company is “bullish” on its prospects and those of the U.S. cheese and dairy industry this year.

Wiskerchen Cheese has good reason to be optimistic. Its acquisition of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin-based All Star Ltd. closed a few months ago, bringing even more capabilities to its already-diversified portfolio of specialty cheese offerings for retail, foodservice and ingredients.

Wiskerchen notes, “2020 kind of put us in a little bit of status quo position. With so much uncertainty in the marketplace, we were not looking aggressively at new projects of any size. Our focus was on catering to existing customers, doing a good job for them and making the highest-quality product within our food safety parameters.

“Our focus for 2021, if the indicators are true and we can get the pandemic under control, is our marketing and distribution channels, where we see a lot of opportunity,” he adds. “We want to be ready when the markets we’re accustomed to get back to normal. I don’t think any of us know what the new normal is going to look like, but I think we’re excited to see it.”

Since Wiskerchen’s grandfather, Lester Wiskerchen Sr., founded the company in 1936 in Auburndale, Wisconsin, Wiskerchen Cheese has grown and evolved to meet demands and challenges in the changing markets.

“In the early years, it was small-scale production. Milk came in cans behind horses on wagons. There were one or two manufacturing vats, and cheesemakers would have manufactured cheese and butter inside the facility,” Wiskerchen says.

In those early years, the company was focused on more traditional American-style cheeses like Cheddar, Farmer’s and Colby in various sizes and configurations. Markets were mostly local, contained to the Upper Midwest.

As the decades passed, there was an evolution in different types of manufacturing and cheese types. Through the middle part of the century through the 1970s, Wiskerchen Cheese focused on 40-pound block manufacturing of its traditional cheeses, later adding cheeses for pizza. Sales expanded nationally, though mostly were concentrated in the Midwest and Eastern United States.

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Specialty makers use spices, flavors to create bold cheeses

January 15, 2021

By Trina La Susa

MADISON, Wis. — Cheesemakers around the country are working with flavor suppliers to create new, bold cheeses driven by the latest trends in spices and flavors. From sweet and acidic berry flavors to spicy pepper and boozy cheeses, the marketplace is expanding to meet the palate preferences of consumers throughout the world. Using creativity, experimentation and assistance from dairy foods research centers, cheesemakers are coming up with new and exciting flavors that attract consumers.

“There are more and more cheese companies making flavored cheeses, especially on the artisan side in smaller batches. Everybody’s trying to differentiate with good reason and come up with their own flavors,” says Dean Sommer, cheese and food technologist, Center for Dairy Research (CDR).

Sommer, who has assisted cheese buyers from foreign countries to develop dairy products with unique flavors, says that the key in developing new flavors is to research the flavors that are attractive in different markets and find the right type of cheese that carries and complements the flavor. He also notes that a flavored cheese that is attractive to U.S. consumers may not work for export markets and consumers in other countries.

CDR has done experiments for some Asian-Pacific rim countries making a flavored cheese using salted and fermented vegetables called kimchi and separately used green tea to flavor cheese and dairy products.

• Pepper cheese

“I’m quite sure that the No. 1 flavor for cheeses in the United States is still pepper-flavored cheeses. What has happened for some time and continues to happen is that this flavor category has branched off into different varieties of peppers, including jalapeños, habanero peppers, chipotle peppers, roasted peppers, hot hatch peppers, cayenne, ghost pepper and Cajun with peppers,” Sommer says.

Garon Foods Inc., Herrin, Illinois, a food processor and flavor supplier that assists cheese companies globally in creating new and bold flavors, pioneered a way to add peppers into natural cheeses without negatively impacting the solidification process during the make procedure. Garon has a wide variety of products — however, its specialty is peppers.

The peppers were developed so they could be added to post-pasteurized, natural cheese, according to Gary Griesbach, president and co-founder, Garon Foods. He notes that the process became known as NAL-Preservation Fluid, which is a non-brined product using 100% natural ingredients.

“Garon’s items in NAL-Preservation Fluid are most popular with cheese companies due to their food safety and ease of being added to ready-to-eat natural cheese items; however, dairy manufacturers also are purchasing Garon’s dried and frozen ingredients to include in their various products such as dips and soft cheeses,” Griesbach says.

“Garon is in a unique position to work with today’s cheesemakers to create new flavors, whether they’re venturing into Pepper Jack cheese for the first time, trying to make a vegetable dip or adding a spice rub to the outside of a cheese,” Griesbach adds, noting the company works one-on-one with its customers to make product ideas come to life.

When it comes to adding peppers, Sommer notes he also has answered a number of questions about using pimento peppers in different varieties of cheese. Pimento cheese spreads have a long history in the southern United States, and he says Pimento cheeses now are starting to make inroads throughout the country.

Smoked cheese, which uses either smoked flavors added to the curd or actual smokehouses to naturally smoke cheese, also are growing in popularity, and Sommer says that in particular he has received frequent questions from cheese manufacturers looking for connections for naturally smoking cheese in special smokehouses.

Garon’s customers not only desire jalapeños, but also specialty peppers like pimentos, as well as fresnos, poblanos, cayenne, scotch bonnets and pepper blends, according to Griesbach. He notes that the specialty cheese industry has flourished with flavors such as, but not limited to, dill, horseradish and a variety of fruit and vegetable combinations, ranging from sweet to spicy and mild to wild, including current trends of smoky flavored foods, such as chipotle or smoked peppercorn.

Nasonville Dairy Inc., Marshfield, Wisconsin, has seen strong sales in its Horseradish with Chive Jack, Chipotle Cheddar, Blue Marble (Blue Gorgonzola), Habanero Jack and Ghost Pepper Jack, according to David Leonhardi, national sales manager, Nasonville Dairy. Leonhardi notes that many of the company’s unique flavor profiles are inspired by industry demands, preferences, flavor companies making suggestions and reviewing food trends.

“At Nasonville Dairy, we work with a few sources of supply for flavors. We always have expectations that no flavor agent can have zero allergens involved. We want to produce clean product — so clean ingredients are a must. Having a consistent source is critical, and to this point in time we have been OK,” Leonhardi says, noting there have been no interruptions in supply except that lead times have jumped (long-order turn cycles) in the past nine to 12 months. He adds that it is not exclusive to spices but also basics like boxes, etc.

Nasonville Dairy is driven to come up with cheeses that have flavor but also have versatility, functionality and cost efficiency for uses at home, in restaurants and other foodservice business, according to Ken Heiman, vice president and secretary, Nasonville Dairy.

“The idea here is to control the flavor, the functionality and then to control the end-use labor. Whether it’s going to be a Buffalo Wing, a Blue Marble, a pepper cheese of some kind, an Herb and Garlic, an Onion and Chive, a Horseradish and Chive or any of these flavors — they all require that base to be correct, that Monterey or Cheddar it begins with. It’s got to be the primary focus,” Heiman says.

“The flavor of the cheese needs to be there first and foremost; that’s why people enjoy it in foods and restaurant entrees because you taste it first before any secondary flavors. It’s all about that first impression, and the first impression is, ‘I taste the Monterey Jack, I taste the Asiago, I taste the Cheddar, and then I taste the secondary flavors,’” Heiman adds.

• Herb, produce flavored cheeses

Cheeses with fruits and berry flavors as well as truffle and mushroom flavored cheeses have been experiencing double-digit growth year-over-year in the United States, according to Sommer. In addition, cheese with different herbs and vegetables, either using the general category of herbs or calling out specific herbs and vegetables — like spinach, onion, garlic and dill — also are experiencing growth, he says.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Point Reyes Station, California, created its line of three flavored Tomas using herbs, truffles and spices, according to Jill Giacomini Basch, co-owner and chief marketing officer of the company.

The company’s Culinary Director and Executive Chef Jennifer Luttrell came up with 15 possibilities and collected spice and herb-blend samples, then Operations and Head Cheesemaker Kuba Hemmerling created test batches of the different flavored Tomas and the Point Reyes team debated the pros and cons of each, eventually agreeing on what is today’s TomaProvence, which includes a blend of rosemary, basil, marjoram and thyme herbs.

For the TomaTruffle, the team sourced its black truffle pate from the Sabatino family in Umbria, Italy, and created an earthy, aromatic flavor that marries well with the buttery richness of the Toma, Giacomini Basch says.

“Our final Toma spin-off, TomaRashi, adds the umami and nutty flavors of schmichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice blend that includes nori, chile flakes, ginger, toasted sesame and poppy and hemp seeds. Using togarashi instead of more common hot-spice options makes our Toma variation unique, memorable and on-trend,” she adds.

• Alcohol washed/soaked cheese

Another rapidly growing category includes cheeses washed or soaked in alcoholic beverages like whiskeys, cognacs, hard liquors, wines or beers, Sommer says.

Sartori Co., Plymouth, Wisconsin, known for its original line of BellaVitano cow’s milk cheeses that feature a rich and creamy texture and a taste reminiscent of Aged Cheddar combined with Parmesan, says its most popular flavored cheese is BellaVitano Merlot, which is soaked in Merlot wine to give the cheese notes of berry and plum, according to T.W. Bacon, director of brand marketing, Sartori. Additionally, Bacon notes the company’s two newest flavors, Tennessee Whiskey and Chardonnay, also are gaining a tremendous fan base.

“In the market today, our BellaVitano cheese is one-of-a-kind. The bold and unique flavors make them perfect house guests for a fancy cheese charcuterie board or just a simple mid-afternoon snack,” Bacon says. “Our research shows that consumers really love the variety of flavors that we offer and love using our cheese for both snack and recipe needs.”

Despite business disruptions this year due to the pandemic, the Sartori team is working closely with its supplier partners to minimize the impact to BellaVitano production.

“Joe Sartori said, ‘We can make bad cheese from the best milk, but we cannot make the best cheese from bad milk,’” Bacon says. “To make the best cheese in the world, ingredient quality is one of our most important pillars.”

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Industry urges COVID-19 vaccine priority for food, farm workers

January 15, 2021

WASHINGTON — The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has collaborated with other food and ag groups, offering their partnership to the incoming Biden administration on addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, IDFA and 14 other food trade associations sent a letter to President-elect Biden requesting that he designate a federal coronavirus vaccine coordinator in each of the 50 states as well as territories. The coordinators’ responsibilities would be to liaise directly with state, territory and local public health agencies while providing access to federal government resources to ensure an efficient distribution of the vaccine among priority populations. The coordinators also would assist in developing and strengthening partnerships among private sector employers to facilitate vaccine distribution among their essential workers.

“Many of these employers have expressed their strong interest in supporting state, territory and local public health agencies in vaccine distribution, and we expect other industries would do the same,” the letter says, adding that the organizations and their industries stand ready to partner with the administration “to ensure a strong, coordinated public education campaign brings widespread and sustained acceptance of vaccinations among the public.”

Industry organizations also have been urging officials at the state level to prioritize food workers in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.

Wisconsin officials recently approved draft recommendations on persons to include in the COVID-19 vaccine priority group 1B: people aged 70 and older, police and fire personnel, educators, additional health care personnel including cleaning staff and IT, inmates and those in group housing, and mink farmers. This group would be eligible to receive doses after those in the 1A priority groups, which include health care personnel and long-term care residents.

The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) notes that state officials have indicated that an additional phase 1C likely would include food processing workers and others in close-quarters manufacturing jobs, grocery store staff, public transit workers and people aged 65 and older as well as adults with high-risk medical conditions. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) and Gov. Tony Evers will make the final determinations over the next few weeks.

WCMA says it maintains regular communications with WDHS and the Evers administration, advocating for the earliest-possible access to vaccine supplied for members.

Meanwhile, the Northeast Dairy Foods Association Inc. joined a coalition of organizations representing New York agriculture sectors in signing a letter urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include agriculture and food processing employees back into phase 1B of the state’s vaccination schedule as soon as possible. These employees originally were included in phase 1B; however, due to less than expected quantities of the vaccine that were made available to New York, those workers were removed from the eligibility list at the last minute prior to the opening of that phase earlier this week.

“Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, it has been proven that agriculture and food processing and manufacturing employees are essential to ensuring the continuity of a safe and efficient food supply system,” says Ozzie Orsillo, executive vice president of Northeast Dairy Foods Association. “We understand this is a fluid and evolving situation and unexpected circumstances occur, but we are asking that these employees be first in line when expanding phase 1B to other populations.”

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USDA raises milk production, dairy price forecasts for 2021

January 15, 2021

WASHINGTON — USDA raised its 2021 milk production and dairy price forecasts in its latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report released Tuesday.

USDA’s milk production estimates for 2020 and forecast for 2021 are raised from December on growth in milk per cow and higher dairy cow numbers. USDA forecasts 2021 milk production at 226.7 billion pounds, up from 226.3 billion pounds forecast last month.

Fat basis imports for 2020 and 2021 are reduced from last month on lower expected imports of butterfat products. The fat basis export estimate for 2020 is unchanged, but the 2021 forecast is raised on higher expected exports of butterfat products.

The skim-solids basis import estimate for 2020 in unchanged but the 2021 forecast is reduced. The skim-solids basis export estimate for 2020 is reduced on recent trade data while the 2021 forecast is unchanged, USDA says.

Dairy product price estimates for 2020 reflect December price data, USDA notes. For 2021, cheese, butter, NDM and whey price forecasts are raised from last month on firm domestic demand. Cheese is forecast to average $1.740 per pound, while butter is forecast to average $1.605, NDM $1.100 and dry whey $0.450.

The 2021 Class III price and Class IV price forecasts are raised from the previous month on higher product prices. Class III now is projected to average $16.90 per hundredweight, while Class IV is forecast at $14.10. The 2021 all milk price forecast is raised to $17.65 per hundredweight, up from $16.60 forecast last month.

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Per capita cheese consumption continues to climb, demand up

January 8, 2021

WASHINGTON — Over the past 40 years, per capita consumption of dairy products has grown steadily. The average person now consumes about 100 more pounds of dairy products a year — from 543 pounds per capita in 1980 to 653 pounds per capita in 2019, according to the latest data available from USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Cheese consumption is a primary driver in this increase. While fluid milk consumption has been declining for decades, per capita consumption of cheese in the last 40 years has more than doubled overall and more than tripled in some categories.

In 1980, USDA reports that per capita consumption of all cheese was 17.52 pounds, increasing to 24.61 pounds in 1990. In 2000, USDA reports Americans consumed 29.79 pounds of natural cheese per capita, increasing to 38.59 pounds by the end of last year.

Cheddar remained the preferred cheese type for decades. Then Mozzarella began to gain speed through the ’80s and ’90s as pizza rose in popularity, finally overtaking Cheddar as America’s most-consumed cheese variety in 2007. According to USDA data, per-capita Cheddar consumption since 1980 has risen from 6.84 pounds to 10.09 pounds. Per capita Mozzarella consumption over the same period has more than tripled, from 3.01 pounds in 1980 to 12.48 pounds in 2019. The Italian-type cheese category has increased from 4.42 pounds per capita in 1980 to 15.87 pounds in 2019.

American-type cheeses other than Cheddar held fairly steady until the early 2000s, more than doubling from 2.50 pounds in 2005 to 5.45 pounds in 2019.

Hispanic cheese types, though a much smaller portion of total cheese consumption, have grown considerably since USDA began reporting this category separately in 1996. Since then, per capita consumption of Hispanic cheeses has almost quadrupled from 0.25 pound in 1996 to 0.93 pound in 2019.

Meanwhile, other types of cheeses, such as Swiss, Blue, Brick and Muenster, have remained steady or declined over the past several decades.

For overall cheese consumed by Americans, domestic commercial disappearance in 2019 totaled 5.13 billion pounds for American cheese (up from 3.14 billion pounds in 1995) and 7.54 billion pounds for other-than-American cheese (up from 4.01 billion pounds), according to USDA.

In addition to domestic cheese consumption, commercial disappearance has increased tremendously for exports throughout USDA’s reporting period. In 1995, commercial exports of American cheese totaled 10.1 million pounds, which has ballooned to 173.1 million pounds in 2019. Likewise, commercial exports of other-than-American cheese in 1995 were 40.7 million pounds, growing to 613.0 million pounds in 2019, USDA reports.

Finally, cheese is not the only rising star in dairy consumption over the last 40 years. Per capita U.S. butter consumption, which has hovered between 4 and 5 pounds since the 1970s, has gained favor among consumers over the last decade due to new findings on the health benefits of dairy fat. Since 2010, per capita butter consumption has grown from 4.9 pounds to 2019’s all-time high of 6.2 pounds, according to USDA.

Yogurt consumption also has boomed, particularly over the last few decades as it has earned health-halo status among consumers and the more recent introduction of high-protein, Greek-style yogurts. Per capita yogurt consumption was only 2.5 pounds in 1980. This rose to 10.3 pounds by 2005 and a high of 14.9 pounds in 2013-2014, though per capita yogurt consumption has slightly declined over the last five years, according to USDA data.

CMN


November cheese production increases from one year ago

January 8, 2021

WASHINGTON — U.S. cheese production in November totaled 1.100 billion pounds, up 0.6% from November 2019’s 1.093 billion pounds, according to data released this week by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). (All figures are rounded. Please see CMN’s Dairy Production chart on page 15.) November’s total was down 2.7% from October’s 1.131 billion pounds but up 0.5% on an average daily basis.

Italian-type cheese production in November totaled 457.5 million pounds, down 3.1% from November 2019. Production of Mozzarella, the largest component of Italian-type cheese production, totaled 362.8 million pounds in November, down 3.3% from a year earlier.
American-type cheese production in November totaled 449.2 million pounds, up 3.9% from November 2019. Production of Cheddar, the largest component of American-type cheese, totaled 320.7 million pounds in November, up 3.7% from 2019.

Wisconsin was the leading cheese-producing state with 275.5 million pounds produced in November, down 1.4% from 2019. California produced the second most cheese in November at 200.7 million pounds, down 7.7% from 2019.

U.S. production of butter totaled 168.3 million pounds in November, up 4.0% from November 2019. November U.S. butter production was up 1.8% from October’s 165.4 million pounds, and up 5.2% on an average daily basis. California led the nation in butter production with 50.9 million pounds in November, up 4.5% from 2019.

CMN


U.S. dairy trading at the CME increases in transparency, efficiency

January 8, 2021

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — From board trading to open outcry to electronic, cheese and dairy trading practices have evolved over the past several decades, bringing increased price transparency and efficiency for buyers and sellers.

More than two decades ago, Cheese Market News noted “the end of an era” for the U.S. cheese industry. On April 25, 1997, for the last time, dairy traders bid on the open outcry system in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The following week, trading began at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s (CME) spot cheese market in Chicago.

At the time, industry experts were unsure of what trading on CME’s market would do. According to CMN reporting that year, some believed it could lead to more trading and potentially lower prices, while others believed it could lead to less activity because the industry wanted to know who was trading, and that lack of knowledge could lead to stagnant or slow-moving prices.

“When they started trading, and when I started in the industry, CME futures and spot markets were all traded on white boards. They then migrated to the more notable open outcry, where you stand around in a pit, and then we went to electronic trading,” says Eric Meyer, president of HighGround Dairy, Chicago. “It’s fascinating because nearly every other commodity was doing open outcry when dairy was doing board trading, and board trading is similar to electronic trading, really. We’ve kind of evolved into a more modern version of what we started with.”

In 2017, the CME Group transitioned its CME Dairy Spot Call for daily price discovery in physical dairy markets to an electronic, transaction-based auction, accessed through the CME Direct Auction Platform. This replaced the physical spot market held via a limited open outcry session on the company’s Chicago trading floor.

Dairy products were transitioned to the platform in three phases, with nonfat dry milk (NDM) starting in January 2017, butter in April 2017 and cheese in June 2017. Dry whey spot trading was added in March 2018.

“The spot cheese market joined the 21st century in June 2017 when the industry migrated from yelling and screaming cheese prices to clicking,” says Dave Kurzawski, team leader-Dairy Risk Management Consulting with StoneX, Chicago. “The arrival of the electronic platform ushered in a surge in spot market activity and added new participants. We don’t think the shift to electronic trading drove all the increase in volume, but there is no evidence that the switch has reduced participation. StoneX continues to see spot market participation growth, and we believe the anonymity of the electronic platform has helped this along.”

Brian Fletcher, vice president, commercial services, ever.ag, Chicago, says that while the open outcry trading of spot dairy products had elements of excitement, drama and personality that is lost with the electronic trading, the transition to electronic trading has gained efficiency, participation, anonymity and, most importantly, has an infrastructure that is set up to cater to more growth in the future.

“You can see that volume for the entire complex traded a record amount in 2020 (see related chart on page 9) but has been in a different category of volume since transitioning to electronic trading. So, in my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons, and the transition has been a big success for the industry,” Fletcher says.

Meyer agrees, noting that while there’s some nostalgia for in-person trading, there’s a market efficiency, price transparency and accessibility benefit to electronic trading.

“Instead of a handful of women and men on the trading floor having a first look before the rest of the market does, the electronic markets provide a much more level playing field for all market participants. I think it’s a better place for access, transparency and a level playing field moving forward,” he says.

Kurzawski notes that increased market volatility — particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic — sometimes gives the illusion of less transparent markets, “but we’d argue that spot and derivative markets better reflect what is occurring in the country today than at any point in the last 20 years.”

CME dairy futures markets also have evolved over the years, with the addition of cheese block and barrel futures trading as the most recent enhancements.

Kurzawski says the more the industry relies on transparent CME spot and/or futures market pricing, the more efficient and transparent markets become.

“It’s a feedback loop that continually helps market transparency,” he says.

Fletcher says adding cheese futures in 2010 (weighted average of National Dairy Products Sales Report [NDPSR] block and barrel price and volume) and block futures in 2020 (weighted average of NDPSR block price and volume) has made hedging more efficient for the cheese market.

“Prior to 2010, there was no cheese contract while there was Class III, whey and butter,” he says. “So if you wanted to hedge cheese precisely, you would have to use Class III, whey and eventually butter — if the volume is large enough — to hedge the price of cheese; you had to use three contracts to hedge one price! Executing three contracts to hedge one price screams inefficiency.”
Now, market participants can use one contract to hedge one price, Fletcher notes.

“Not only that, but the CME has the only cheese futures/options contract in the world,” he says, noting that while foreign exchanges like NZX, Global Dairy Trade (GDT) (New Zealand) and EEX (Europe) have other dairy products, neither have a cheese price that creates a competitive advantage for the U.S. market when looking to lock up long-term contracts with international customers.

“Beyond brokering on EEX and NZX exchanges, the focus of non-U.S. dairy prices for us as a company is to analyze what dairy prices are doing and compare the prices on an apples-to-apples basis back to U.S. prices and translate it into useful information to our customer base,” Fletcher says. “This helps give us an idea of U.S. competitiveness to the global market; the export market is important because it can often be the marginal demand that can have large price impacts. In general, I would say the last 10 years have made huge steps in creating a more transparent marketplace between the European Union deregulating in the mid-2010s, advancements made to the GDT auction and platform and a suite of tools that are available today.”

Regarding foreign exchanges, Kurzawski says StoneX has worked hard to help develop those markets and bring the same level of price transparency and price risk mitigation to those markets as exists in the United States.

“In fact, the EEX has just announced that they are working to create a new cheese price index that might eventually be used to settle cheese derivatives in Europe,” he says. “The U.S. dairy market was a very sheltered market up until about 2007/2008. That has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and as global price transparency continues to grow, our market has become more efficient.”

Meyer says he believes cheese futures have been “a tremendous success” in simplifying the tool by which cheese speculators can use the market.

“That said, the evolution of supply and demand fundamentals has made it less efficient in recent times,” he adds. “The block/barrel price spread has strayed from its norm for almost two years now. Is the tool working for hedgers anymore? I would say it hasn’t been for quite some time.”

Kurzawski says it “made sense to spread things out and create a new cheese contract a decade ago.

“Commercial end-users of cheese don’t buy milk — they buy cheese,” he says. “Dairy farmers sell milk, not cheese. It only made sense to add a cheese contract by which you can better accommodate the hedgers in the market.”

Meyer says “time will tell” if cheese futures are the right solution for the long haul.

“In the grand scheme of things, the market is moving in the right direction, and we’re obviously dealing with a pandemic upsetting the supply/demand balance,” he says.

CMN


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Today's Cheese Spot Trading
Jan. 26, 2021


Barrels: $1.4000 (+3/4)
Blocks: $1.5925 (-1 3/4)


Click here for more market activity
Cheese Production
U.S. Total Nov.
1.100 bil. lbs.


Milk Production
U.S. Total Nov.
18.025 bil. lbs.

Guest Columnist

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Lucas Fuess is the director of dairy market intelligence at HighGround Dairy

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