Farm Horizons, May 1999

DFA excited about new cheese product

By Luis Puga

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) in Winsted has gone through many changes since it began as Pure Milk Produce in 1929.

The entrance to the office building indicates such. In it are rows of shelves of awards from over the years.

Emblazoned on some plaques is the name Mid-America Dairymen, recalling other times in the company's history.

Later awards, of course, indicate DFA.

However, the next change will see a sharp decrease in the amount of cheese-making awards. DFA has decided to stop cheese production in Winsted, and turn to producing a specialty dried cheese powder.

The reason for the change is efficiency.

Plant Superintendent Doug Peckham said that the decline of milk production in the midwest has led to the consolidation of many DFA operations.

The way to best utilize the Winsted plant, according to Peckham, is to change its production to make a value-added product.

Plant Manager Lisa Hensel added, "We're still a dairy cooperative so we're focusing in other ways to make money for the area dairy farmers. With the milk base shrinking, we're looking at making these value-added specialty products."

The product begins with cheese, which is brought to the plant from other locations. The cheese ranges from feta to swiss, from cheddar to romano, and more.

Following a recipe, the cheese is mixed with other dried products and water. Then, DFA adds any other liquid dairy products the recipe calls for.

It is homogenized, sprayed dry, and packaged into 50-pound bags.

As many as 40 different recipes are used. Sometimes a customer is asks for flavoring, sometimes coloring.

At times, the recipes are created in conjunction with DFA's research and development center in Springfield, Ill.

Peckham said the process will require a higher level of sophistication from the plant.

So much so that the plant is receiving a $140,000 grant from the State of Minnesota to train its employees in the new process. Classes will be given for widespread computer usage and increasing math skills.

Peckham adds that the plant will also endeavor to keep the same quality in its new products as it had previously.

So where will consumers find the new product?

Unfortunately, that has not yet been announced publicly. However, general statements seem to indicate snack foods.

When Peckham was asked if consumers going into a store to buy snack products, would be buying items with DFA's new product, he said that it would be very likely.

In fact, those possibilities have both Peckham and Hensel excited. While they did not know the market share of the new product, they both were confident that while challenging, the new changeover will be a success.

There is still that entrance way of awards to live up to and speculation by some that it is regrettable to see award-winning cheese go by the wayside.

Not true, said Peckham, since the Winsted name will be kept alive on quality cheese. In essence, it will become its own style of cheese.

Peckham also insisted that the new process will keep Winsted in a high profile. Hensel noted there is a great potential to grow and Peckham added that the growth is contingent on whether the plant can prove its ability.

Peckham also said, "We have an opportunity to do something great within the company and keep the name of Winsted alive with the essence of quality with the products that we make."

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