Cal Poly graduate Jonathon Van Ryn graduated in 2004 with a degree in dairy science and has since put his education to use starting a new micro cheese plant in Traver, Calif. about two months ago.
“I went to Cal Poly thinking I was going to be a dairyman and got interested in the milk processing side,” Van Ryn said.
After graduation, he partnered with a well-known local cheese maker and started building the new plant on his father’s Valley Farms. His partner, William Boersma, had been making cheese for 10 years and had outgrown his plant.
“We’re making three times more cheese than he was before,” Van Ryn said. “We tripled production, now we have to figure out how to triple sales.”
Bravo Farms has six varieties of cheese, but specialize in different flavored cheddars such as chipotle and sage. Van Ryn said the gourmet, rind-cured cheeses like Silver Mountain and Tulare Cannon are some of their biggest sellers. Tulare Cannon is a three-pound Dutch, Edam style lump of cheese in the shape of a cannonball.
These cheeses have won awards from the American Cheese Society and the California State Fair. They have even gained the rural Tulare County based Bravo Farms national recognition in publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Business Week Magazine.
Travelers on U.S. Highway 99 who stop at the Valley Farms gift shop can also watch artisan cheese making in the viewing room next door at Bravo Farms.
Besides being located on his father’s farms, Van Ryn gets the milk for his cheese from his aunt and uncle.
“It’s kind of a family process all the way through,” he said.
Van Ryn’s former dairy science professors, Nana Farkye and William Gilis, agree that he was a good student.
“He was somebody who had a vision. He knew what he wanted and decided to go after it,” Farkye said.
“He was very interested in learning and very interested in trying new things,” Gillis said.
Both professors said the “learn by doing” experience at the campus dairy farm and processing plant is important in preparing students for the industry. Gillis also said that the dairy science department helps students get internships in the summer.
“They get a lot of experience working in the actual industry before they even graduate,” he said.
“I’ve learned a lot of science, a lot of technique, a lot of the reasons why milk can be turned into cheese,” Van Ryn said about his time at Cal Poly. “I think I went to college to learn how to learn. It gives you knowledge, not all the knowledge, but once you get out there you know where to look to find more.”