Wegmans funds pilot cheese-making program at Cornell

ITHACA, N.Y. — From a semi-soft washed rind cheese aged in a King Ferry root cellar to a buttery sheep and cow’s milk Camembert created in the Hudson Valley, a host of new New York cheeses will be featured at Wegmans Food Markets.

Products from five artisan cheesemakers debuted in June at Wegmans Pittsford, N.Y. store. The event also highlighted a unique collaboration between Wegmans and Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that was touted as the first step in the next evolution of New York’s dairy industry.

Funding Extension position

As part of the partnership, Wegmans is providing $360,000 in funding for a three-year pilot program at Cornell that includes the hire of an artisan cheese extension associate position in the CALS Department of Food Science.

This individual will create a training curriculum that is supported by focused standard operating procedures (SOPs) to serve entrepreneurs as well as the state’s larger cheese producers.
It will focus on the skills required for both basic and advanced cheese making through hands-on workshops and coursework.

Building program

Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman also announced that the retailer has begun sourcing its store-branded cheddar cheese from New York cheese makers.

Beginners will start with the basics of dairy microbiology and sanitation, while more advanced cheesemakers can train in molding, brining and curing, and quality assurance.

The program will enhance Cornell’s existing strength in dairy development, education and extension, which also includes certificate programs in cheesemaking, fluid milk processing, yogurt and fermented products.

Potential is there

Cornell dairy extension specialist Rob Ralyea said artisan cheesemaking is a growing niche that could have great market potential if given the proper support.

“Making a great, aged artisan cheese is an art that takes practice, science and know-how,” Ralyea said.

Initial participants

Early participants in the program include Keeley’s Cheese Co. (King Ferry), Danascara Artisan Cheese (Fonda), Sprout Creek Farm (Poughkeepsie), Goats & Gourmets (Westerlo) and Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. (Old Chatham).

A selection of their cheeses will be featured at the Pittsford store, and rolled out later to other Wegmans locations across the state.

Buying local

Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman also announced that the retailer has begun sourcing its store-branded cheddar cheese from New York cheese makers, after years of marketing cheeses manufactured in Canadian dairies.

Its mild cheddar is now made in the Great Lakes town of Adams, while its medium cheddar is made by Yancey’s Fancy in Corfu and its intense cheddar hails from New York City’s Flatiron District, where it is made by Beecher’s.

“It is our goal to help grow the artisan cheese business by bringing unique and different cheeses to our customers,” said Cathy Gaffney, Wegmans director of cheese and deli departments. “They have asked for more local selections.

“By combining the milk quality produced in New York state, our truly passionate cheesemakers, and Cornell University, we have all the components to take the industry to the next level while listening to our customers’ requests.”

Industry opportunity

“Our goal is to support the next revolution in New York’s dairy industry,” said Kathryn Boor, the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“In addition to boosting both large and small-scale cheesemakers, this partnership will provide increased economic opportunity for dairy farmers and cheese manufacturers and new high-quality products for consumers. It will also lead to significant improvements in efficiencies and production costs, which benefits both businesses and consumers.”

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