The sun is finally shining on Corvallis again! You’re with your friends at one of the many awesome pubs and breweries downtown and it’s time to order some appetizers. Nachos, fries, and wings are pretty standard wherever you are, but most towns don’t have the opportunity to order some fried cheese curds that are locally made right here in town, not to mention on campus at Oregon State University!
Beaver Classic is an OSU original cheese made by our Food Science students in the College of Agricultural Sciences with milk from our cows in our state-of-the-art Arbuthnot Dairy Center. The center is located up Campus Way in Withycombe Hall and has no shortage of personality, charm, and hard work.
Before being able to check out the facilities, I spoke with Lisbeth Goddick, a professor in Food Science and Technology here at OSU, and current dairy processing extension specialist.
The center opened early in the last decade as a place to support the training of dairy professionals, jumpstarting the cheese-making program. The sale of Beaver Cheese was started as a way to pay the Food Science students working in the center on campus in addition to practicum credits and work experience with dairy processing.
“We keep expanding the type of cheeses we sell. Our best sellers are still the cheddars that are flavored in alcoholic beverages that the students are making as well, often it’s the fermentation students that are also in our program,” Goddick explained. “We get the milk from the OSU Dairy Farm and I believe are Animal and Rangeland Science students working, making a nice collaboration between students from both programs.”
The next day, I headed over the center in Withycombe to speak with Robin Frojen, the current creamery manager who directly oversees the process day-to-day. Frojen took over the creamery in summer of 2013, when at the time, was producing only one or two different cheeses. Today, the center is producing 15 different kinds of cheeses including an assortment of cheddars, swisses, and provolones.
“Everything is 100 percent students. They get licensed as milkers and pasteurizers to work with the dairy hands on and pasteurize milk legally, and they even handle all our marketing,” Frojen discussed. “This is a hands-on job that gives you experience you wouldn’t be able to get out of a book.”
The students in the center are trained to do all the technical work and troubleshooting that comes with working in the dairy industry. According to Frojen, larger dairy corporations now know the kind of students that come out of our program and scout well-trained and academically knowledgeable students, increasing the rate of jobs right out of undergraduate to 90 percent.
“Our students are trained to troubleshoot so that if anything is ever going wrong, or a machine is making a weird noise they can figure out what it is, where it’s coming from and what it means. That’s a skill you can learn from a book”
A big part of the cheese-making process is trial and error, along with the experimentation of new flavors. In a new partnership with Corvallis’ First Alternative Co-op as part of their 50th anniversary celebration, a new flavor will be exclusively released there for a year before being available globally. The flavor was part of an experimental bunch that had never been tried before making it to the tasting.
Looking around the facility, I was able to speak with two student workers in the program, Crystal Babcock and Brooke Eilersen, about their experiences working at the center.
“This is my favorite job I’ve ever had,” said Eilersen. “The experience is different everyday because we’re allowed to experiment anyway we want and there’s so much openness and freedom to do what we like here.”
Babcock then went on to explain her experiences in the Marine Core, and the similarities she sees between her years with them and her experience in the lab.
“In the marines we foster a family, we’re a team. We live together, we eat together, we sleep together, and we suffer together. In other jobs that I’ve worked, I’ve not had that except for here. We eat together, study together, suffer together. Working here is great,” explained Babcock.
The Arbuthnot Dairy Center and the program it houses is a fun and unique facet to OSU’s diverse community of learners and programs within our university that not only provides students with the hands-on experience they’ll need in the dairy industry, but a delicious addition to Corvallis’ collection of local food. Beaver Cheese™ is available to purchase every Friday at Withycombe, Market of Choice, the First Alternative Co-op, and through their online store here.