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Self-sufficient program offers job experience
By Chantel Lott
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cheese production at Mississippi State University allows researchers to develop improved cheese products and offers students in food sciences hands-on experience while attending college.
Students at MSU studying food science have the opportunity to study the cheese making process and work in a real cheese production plant as part of their curriculum. The plant is operated by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.
"The main reason we produce cheese is to conduct research and to give our students a head start into the working world. They gain valuable insights and perspectives while on the production floor," said Noel Hall, dairy process production manager at MSU.
"As a result of the increase in milk quantities available through MSU's dairy research, the cheese store has been able to increase its sales numbers for several years now. This past Christmas' production ranked as one of the highest since the mid '80s. However, we worked at 150 percent of our production level many days to accomplish it," Hall said.
"We have two vats that we fill each day to process. At one point we started cleaning one after the first round to begin a second cycle. That idea led to a need for more staff, storage space, and 12- to 13-hour days. We used all the milk from the university's dairy," Hall said.
The MAFES cheese researchers and MSU's dairy production program work closely throughout the process.
"We operate at about the highest capacity we can right now and have done so for quite a while. We also produce all we can on a daily basis. It is all the equipment, staff, storage and time we can muster. We traditionally sell out of all the cheese we make," Hall said.
"During Christmas alone last year we sold 44,000 two-pound cheddar blocks and 54,000 Edam balls. There are also several other kinds of cheese we produce. The reduced fat Edam is one popular product developed through our cheese research efforts," Hall said.
To reserve MSU cheese for this Easter or Christmas, people should mark their calendars to submit the orders by April 1 and Nov. 1, respectively.
"Day after day, year after year, we have been making Edam cheese since the '40s. Alumni are the most influential in our success, but it is branching out. Recipients one year of the cheese balls may like it so much that they contact us about purchasing more -- sometimes for personal use and others for corporate gifts," said Gloria Reed, sales manager of the MAFES Sales Store.
"We ship cheese to every state in the country each year. We even receive international orders, but because of the timing factor, it is not usually possible. Cheese must be shipped in cooler weather and arrive promptly," Reed said.
Today, hardly anyone remembers that the whole process began with only 10 cheese hoops made of teakwood from Holland that were ordered just before the ports shutdown at the onset of World War II.
In 1938, F.H. Herzer, professor and department head of the animal and dairy science department at Mississippi State College announced his idea of manufacturing Edam cheese. He finally decided on the three pound "cannon ball" in hopes of drawing more attention to the college.
"I doubt that Dr. Herzer would be surprised to see the success of the program. He really had high standards for this undertaking. He carefully chose a popular venture and wanted MSU cheese production to succeed both financially and educationally," Hall said.
Contact: Noel Hall (662) 325-2484