Graig Mantle

Great cheese comes from happy cows, and happy cows come from California – or so they say about real California cheese. And Cal Poly’s Dairy Products Technology Center’s is a major contributor to California’s cheese production.

The center will be offering two cheese making workshop this year on March 20 to 23 and Sept. 11 to 14.

Cheese makers from around the country travel to San Luis Obispo to participate in the weekend courses, said Phillip Tong, professor and director of the Dairy Product Technology Center.

“It’s pretty unusual if you are eating cheese from California that someone from that cheese company hasn’t taken our classes,” Tong said. “Some of the very largest operations like Kraft have sent people to our short courses. We have had people from the East Coast and South America take the classes.”

The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science began offering the courses approximately 20 years ago, and since then has instructed well-know cheese makers from companies such as Cowgirl Creamery, Three Sisters Cheese and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese.

“They come from all across the country,” Laurie Jacobson, outreach specialist for the Dairy Products Technology Center said. “Pretty much any person making farmstead cheese in California has come to one of our farmstead courses.”

The courses began with the Cheese Short Course I, a workshop designed to teach large cheese makers the basic scientific skills and information needed when manufacturing cheese.

As the course became more popular, the need for a course focusing on small artisan cheese makers became imperative, Jacobson said.

“We started doing the new course, Dairy Science and Technology Basics for the Artisan/Farmstead Cheesemaker, because people were coming to the Cheese Short Course I class and it wasn’t meeting their needs,” Jacobson said. “The farmstead class covers some of the issues that smaller cheese makers face. We get a lot of people that are sheep’s milk, goat’s milk people. It’s just a totally different crowd than the Short Course I.”

Both courses are sold out annually.

“Usually, the classes get sold out about a year in advance, so there is a waiting list for the March workshop,” Tong said. “They fill up right away. The cheese classes in particular have been very popular over the years and because we do hands-on cheese making we limit the class to 35 people so they get a chance to get their hands dirty.”

The artisan/farmstead course is open to students and community members who are interested in learning more about the art of artisan cheese making, Tong said.

“The class we offer in the fall, which is more geared toward the artisan cheese maker, has a lot of individuals that just like cheese and want to learn more,” Tong said. “We’ve had culinary instructors and cheese buyers come take the class. It’s very much like the wine industry was about 20 years ago. We are starting to have computer science people, doctors and lawyers who are tired of city life and decide they want to make cheese. So they come take our class and decide if they want to get into the cheese making business.”

Along with the growing popularity in artisan cheese making also came the growth of California cheese production, Tong said.

“California is soon to be the largest cheese producer in the United States,” Tong said. “We are going to surpass the state of Wisconsin in the next year or two.

The dairy sector is the largest agricultural sector for the state of California. It’s much larger than the meat, wine, fruit or vegetable sectors. If California were a country we would produce more milk than Australia and New Zealand together.”

Tong said the cheese industry is a growing and successful field that all students should consider when entering the work force, especially those in chemistry, microbiology, marketing and engineering.

Cal Poly also offers a 10-week cheese making course to students.

For more information on the Dairy Products Technology Center workshops go to, or call (805) 756-6101.

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