New U cheese vat proves efficient

The cheese-making vat is computerized and self-contained.

Beth Hornby

The food science and nutrition department now has its own small-scale cheese-making machine.

The unique machine allows students to create new recipes and creates a more efficient cheese production. It also helps students who plan to work in dairy production prepare for careers.

Food science and nutrition professor Lloyd Metzger, head of the pilot project, said the computerized and self-contained machine is a sign of the times for the dairy industry.

“Now all we have to do is plug in a program and let it run,” Metzger said.

The vat, located on the St. Paul campus, is smaller than the industry-sized model and processes 20,500 pounds of milk at a time – nearly 50,000 pounds less than the regular model.

Metzger said the smaller vat wastes less milk when a batch is unsuccessful – making operating costs much lower.

“So far, we have been very successful at developing safety improvements and more efficient methods,” Metzger said.

The department previously used open-style vats – the traditional manual method of cheese production. But he said because the vat is closed, it also exposes the cheese to fewer airborne bacteria.

Scherping Systems, one the world’s leading manufacturers of cheese-making machines, sold the scale model vat to the University at cost. Scherping spokesman George Schwinghammer said the equipment was specially designed for University researchers so students learn how to operate the computers used in the professional dairy industry.

Metzger said the University’s research will, in turn, support the industry through new ideas and innovative processing techniques.

However, the University also rents the equipment to other food producers.

“We want the information and technology out there and for everyone to use,” Metzger said.

So far, the University is the first to produce cottage cheese in a closed vat system.

Because each batch produces more than 500 containers of cottage cheese, the University Dairy Products Store on the St. Paul campus, which sells the cheese, said it will be fully stocked for a while.

The Dairy Products Store sells cheese and ice cream produced by University researchers. It is located in the Andrew Boss Laboratory-Meat Science Building and is open every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.