Bedecked in hair nets, OSU food science students crowded around four plastic rectangular vats filled with a milky white liquid. The students stirred, removed some liquid and added other liquid, and generally marveled as curds slowly thickened into their final product—Havarti cheese.
“Although these vats look small, they are exactly what cheese makers use in France,” said Lisbeth Goddik, a professor of food science at OSU.
And she would know. Goddik recently returned from a sabbatical year in France, where she made all varieties of cheese with similar equipment and perfected the art and science of artisan cheese making. With help from the Oregon Dairy Industries, Tillamook Cheese, and a French cheese company, Goddik has now assembled a small commercial-grade cheese plant on campus, where teaching and research are already underway.
As an OSU Extension dairy processing specialist, Goddik is helping to nurture the growth of a bustling new artisan cheese industry in Oregon. The number of small-scale specialty cheese makers has grown statewide from two to 20 over the last few years. And the industry is reaching new levels of sophistication; last year, an Oregon blue cheese won first place among more than 1,300 other competitors nationwide from the American Cheese Society.
Because the new pilot plant at OSU uses industry-standard equipment, Goddik’s teaching and research are calibrated to the needs of this new industry.
“I think it’s important for all students here to have access to big equipment, so that when we go to work for the industry we know how to use the tools of the trade,” said Gwyn McWryn, a student in Goddik’s dairy foods class. Goddik’s hands-on approach to teaching means no class lectures. Instead, her students study the course material outside of class and come prepared for discussion, projects, and analysis.
Goddik returned from France brimming with new ideas for the pilot plant, including the adaption of a French technique to extend the shelf life of Oregon brie and camembert cheeses. Goddik hopes to secure additional funding to boost the pilot plant’s cheese-making capacity to 1,500 pounds per day. She envisions someday having a cheese plant located at the OSU Dairy Farm where students would produce and market their own OSU specialty cheese.
“The artisan cheese sector is growing today like the Oregon wine sector was 20 years ago. There are close to 400 wineries in Oregon today, and we’re hoping in 20 years there may be that many cheese makers in Oregon as well,” she said. And in this fast-growing industry, Goddik’s students will be leading the whey.