Cal Poly Cheese
The Cal Poly Creamery produces a number of cheese varieties, including gouda and spicy cheddar. Riley Rhodes | Mustang News

Located in Cal Poly’s Dairy Innovation Institute, the Cal Poly Creamery produces ice cream, eggnog, chocolate milk and cheese, giving students the opportunity to experiment with different dairy products.

The Dairy Innovation Institute has long been evolving their research and development program. The research element of the institute is newer than the rest of the program, which began in 1906.

In 1995, the program moved from the food science facility on campus to the larger space that became the Dairy Innovation Institute. This move allowed the creamery to expand into areas such as research, education and production. The creamery has outsourced products to the community for about 30 to 40 years, but the move allowed them to expand their reach.

The transition led to maximized production with bigger vats, a butter churn and a milk chocolate line. They can now produce as much as 440 pounds of cheese in their largest vats. They also have smaller vats that each hold up to 25 pounds. They use the smaller vats to try out new cheese ideas.

Quality Assurance Research Associate Baheeja Zaitoun has worked at the facility for two years, after graduating with her master’s degree in dairy products technology from Cal Poly.

“I would rather eat [cheeses] than make them, especially using the big vat,” Zaitoun said. “It’s really hard to work with because we need to stir, by ourselves, 520 gallons of milk.”

The workers produce a steady supply of cheese and ice cream products so they are ready to meet market demand when the need arises. Other products, such as chocolate milk and eggnog, are more difficult because they have shorter shelf-lives and must be produced closer to shipment.

However, there is no shortage of dairy resources for the creamery. The dairy department produces up to 800 gallons of milk during each milking.

Their bigger production capabilities and research facility teach students how to work with dairy in the processing unit to be one of the main focuses of the dairy program.

Jennifer Pelayo, dairy processing operations manager and Cal Poly graduate, values this task. She returned to Cal Poly to fulfill her dream of managing the plant and to teach students.

“When I was a student, I was dying to be plant manager,” Pelayo said. “One thing led to another and now I’m here.”

Pelayo wants to equip students who work at the facility with the skills they will need in the industry. This hands-on approach lets the students get comfortable with the machines and learn how to work with the equipment.

Agribusiness sophomore Ryan Ingersoll has been working at the facility to gain experience in the field.

“It makes me realize what goes into the process and how it goes from the farm to the plate,” Ingersoll said.

Toward the end of the creamery’s production period, the 12 students working at the institute create new products to expand their production and to encourage success through creativity, which is part of the research and development portion of the institute. In addition to their regular cheese production, featuring some of their more popular cheeses like spicy cheddar and Monterey Jack. Students also create experimental products. The research and development projects aim to expand their cheese production in broader markets, and enter competitions to spread brand awareness.

Pelayo has been a strong proponent of the research and development projects. She encourages the students experiment with cheeses they want to try. The trial and error process has led to one of their more popular cheeses — havarti cheese. Sucesses like this one show promise for the program.

As of now, students are experimenting with apple pie-spiced cheese, seaweed-wrapped Gouda, chili-coated cheeses, Italian seasoned cheese and gourmet cheeses like Brie. The list extends to ice cream with flavors like Earl Grey tea, White Chocolate Raspberry and butter ­— a flavor inspired by Butterbeer from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

During Open House, the creamery offered samples of the three ice cream flavors to narrow it down to one new flavor to produce. They hope to start implementing a flavor of the month to get people interested in what they do at the institute.

“Research is really interesting. We do things you probably haven’t seen in the dairy industry yet or even in the market,” Pelayo said.

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