Research institutions, dairy plants benefit Utah, Nevada

Editor’s note: As part of our series, “From Cow to Curd: A Look Across the Nation,” Cheese Market News takes a look at the cheese and dairy industry across the United States. Each month we examine a different state or region, looking at key facts and evaluating areas of growth, challenges and recent innovations. This month we are pleased to introduce our latest states — Utah and Nevada.

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — The arid, temperate climate and expanses of land across Utah and Nevada accommodate large herds of dairy cows, as well as a number of small and large processors across both states.

In 2018, Utah averaged 100,000 milk cows on the state’s 180 licensed dairy farms, according to USDA data released earlier this month. Nevada has a smaller pool of dairy farms, with 32,000 milk cows housed among the state’s 20 farms in 2018, USDA reports.

“The Utah dairy industry is fairly stable, in the sense that the number of cows has remained constant for a lot of years now, though the number of dairy farms and farmers continues to decline,” says Donald McMahon, director of the Western Dairy Center at Utah State University. “It’s probably not going to grow much more — it’s limited by the availability of water and feed.”

David Perazzo co-owns Perazzo Brothers Dairy with his brother Alan in Fallon, Nevada. Their sons who also work on the dairy are the fourth generation of the family-owned dairy that began in 1941. Perazzo notes that his dairy is one of about 13 or 14 around the small farming community of Fallon.

“I would say we’ve lost two or three dairies in the last five years, but gained a number of cows,” he says, noting that dairies in the state range from around 500 to 4,500 cows, and almost all are multigenerational, family-owned operations.

“We’re all open lots,” he adds. “The climate is perfect. It doesn’t get too cold, it doesn’t get too hot, and we don’t have much humidity. I think it’s a great place to dairy.”

• Processing

Among aspects that have made Fallon, Nevada, a great place to dairy is a large powder plant Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) opened there in 2014. The plant has the capacity to process 2 million pounds of milk per day and produces nonfat dry milk, skim milk powder, whole milk powder and cream.

The presence of this plant has allowed Perazzo Brothers Dairy to expand from 500 cows to the 1,100-1,200 cows it milks today. Perazzo Brothers ships 17 loads of milk a day to the DFA plant and another four to Model Dairy, a Dean Foods plant in Reno, Nevada. California-based Pacific Cheese Co. also has a plant in Reno.

Utah is home to a number of cheese and dairy processors. Gossner Foods, which accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. Swiss manufacturing, is headquartered in Logan, Utah, where it also operates a cheesemaking and packaging plant and an aseptic milk plant. The company is planning to expand storage capacity at its cheese plant and is breaking ground this spring on a 65,000-square-foot expansion of its aseptic plant.

Wisconsin-based Schreiber Foods, one of the largest dairy companies in the world, has a plant in Logan that includes cream cheese, natural cheese, process cheese, yogurt and distribution, as well as a natural cheese plant in Smithfield, Utah.

DFA has its Cache Valley cheese operation in Beaver, Utah, where last fall it opened its newly expanded and reimagined 11,250-square-foot visitor center, “The Creamery.” Located half-way between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City along Interstate 15, The Creamery includes a retail store, an interactive and educational experience about dairy, and a full-service café with menu items featuring cheeses made at the adjoining plant.

Utah also has had an increasing number of artisan cheese producers. Beehive Cheese in Uintah, Utah, and Heber Valley Artisan Cheese in Midway, Utah, are among the larger and more established artisan cheese companies in the state that have earned national awards. A new European-style artisan cheese company, Park City Creamery, recently opened in Park City, Utah.

“It seems like people who live in Utah are really in-tune to eating quality food and wanting quality ingredients to cook with,” says Hayden Welsh, shipping and receiving manager, Beehive Cheese.

Beehive Cheese specializes in Irish-style Cheddar and is best known for its Barely Buzzed, a Cheddar rubbed with a mix of espresso and lavender. The company’s cheeses are distributed across the United States.

“When we started 11 or 12 years ago, we were pretty much the only artisan cheese company in a pretty big radius,” Welsh says. “Now we’ve seen more artisan cheese companies pop up, and it’s cool to see.”

• Research and training

Beehive Cheese started more than a decade ago when Welsh’s father and uncle, Tim Welsh and Pat Ford, left their respective careers in software and real estate to start a local creamery in northern Utah. With no previous cheesemaking experience, they worked with Utah State University’s Western Dairy Center for education, training and mentorship.

“Over close to 15 years, there has been a resurgence in artisan cheesemaking in Utah. What we find is that most of the people who start up those companies don’t have any cheesemaking experience themselves,” McMahon says. “What we’ve tried to do in our cheesemaking courses is to keep them small — 12 or so every time — and offer plenty of hands-on experience. The goal is to help so that when they go back to the factory, they can make a good piece of cheese. We give them recipes they can use to make a basic cheese, then they can apply artisan talents to making different varieties.”

In addition to its outreach component that includes providing short courses and helping start-up cheesemakers, Western Dairy Center has a strong research component and works with the dairy industry and other universities in Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon to help solve problems that the industry considers research priorities.

The BUILD dairy program — Building University Industry Linkages through Learning and Discovery — started in 2015 and recruits students involved in graduate and undergraduate science programs to participate in research groups as well as discover opportunities for careers in the dairy industry. The BUILD program has grown from five students in 2015 to more than 50 students now, along with another 10 who have completed the program and are employed in the dairy and food industry. In addition to checkoff support, the BUILD program is funded by companies that are asked to support specific research projects.

“Finding students with interest working in the region is important to us,” McMahon says. “There is quite a wide range of projects. We have a student at Brigham Young University working on enzyme-modified cheese. Another student there is working on bacteria concerns in dried dairy products, such as might go into infant formula. We have students working on what happens when you run a pasteurizer for an extended period of time, what biofilms build up that release bacteria into the milk and change its quality. We have students working to understand the microbiology in cheese so that we can better understand the flavor development. The dairy industry in this region is interested in producing cheeses that have different flavor profiles.”

In addition to benefitting from the Western Dairy Center’s research and courses, dairy companies in this region also help to mentor students interested in cheesemaking. Beehive Cheese often hosts students at its plant to learn about artisan cheesemaking.

“Over the years, agricultural department students have come down and made cheese with us,” Welsh says. “We’ll let students know where we got the recipe from and how we developed the recipe.”

McMahon notes that Utah State University continues to invest in its cheese and dairy education facilities. It has installed a new robotic milking system at its farm and is just finishing up a million-dollar renovation to help modernize its pilot plant creamery. The university also is hiring two new dairy food professors, one in microbiology and one in chemistry and processing.

“There has been a commitment from Utah State University to really have a focus on dairy foods and be a regional leader for dairy farm and dairy foods research,” he says. “The regional dairy industry has said it’s important to invest in dairy foods here and to build a dairy program that the university is committed to keeping.”


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