Right now, there is an 8-pound block of extra sharp cheddar cheese in Mindy Berrey’s garage-turned-personal-cheese refrigerator. No, she isn’t getting ready for a party. Mindy, director of Sales Operations for the Global Dairy Ingredients (GDI) division of Dairy Foods, is storing it on behalf of Land O’Lakes, Inc. The cheese will remain there until it’s put up for auction at the North Central Cheese Industry Association (NCCIA) annual conference in October.
This isn’t your ordinary cheddar. It’s cheddar from our award-winning cheese plant in Kiel, Wis. What makes this cheddar even better is the story of how it went from Kiel’s production line to Mindy’s refrigerator.
It all started on Dec. 20, 2014, the day a 40-pound block of extra sharp cheddar cheese was born. Like the other cheese produced that day, it was placed in cold storage to begin the aging process. After aging for nearly two years, the cheese was cut into smaller blocks and submitted to the NCCIA’s cheesemaking contest and auction.
The pieces that aren’t evaluated for competition are auctioned off to raise scholarship money for students enrolled in college/university dairy programs. In 2016, Rice Dairy International Ltd., a London-based dairy risk consulting firm, won the cheese with a bid of $300.
But they never picked it up.
“When we finally got in touch with Rice Dairy, they told us to keep it and put it up for auction in 2017,” says Mindy, who also serves as the NCCIA board president.
This allowed the cheese to age another year, enhancing its flavor profile, increasing its value and heating up the friendly competition among bidders.
“The NCCIA board members will walk around and talk to people about the cheeses up for auction,” says Mindy. “When Kiel’s cheese went up, people booked it to the front of the room to bid.”
The now three-year aged cheddar block fetched $1,000 at the 2017 auction from Tetra Pak, a food processing and packaging solutions company. And wouldn’t you know it, Tetra Pak told us to hang onto the cheese for the 2018 NCCIA auction. Now it resides in Mindy’s garage refrigerator where it will continue aging like a fine wine.
Making better cheddar
Aging cheddar is what Kiel does best. During the past five years, Kiel has won countless awards from industry associations, state fairs, regional and world competitions.
“This shows the dedication of our people and the commitment they have to making aged cheddar and other good products for Land O’Lakes,” says Kevin Schwartz, Kiel’s plant manager.
Roughly 100 employees work around the clock, 361 days of the year to produce cheese for customers such as Masters Gallery Foods, Sargento Foods, Inc. and Bel Brands USA.
“Masters Gallery is one of our best allies and supporters of Kiel cheese,” says Kevin.
And of course, there’s member milk. Kiel receives 2.2 million pounds of member milk each day, which it uses to produce sharp and extra sharp cheddar, as well as Monterey Jack.
“The milk supplied by our member-owners is high quality,” says Kevin. “Without that and without the support of our workers and customers, we wouldn’t have a long history and tradition of winning.”
For Kiel workers, their award-winning cheese is a source of pride. For Land O’Lakes, Inc., the Kiel workers are a source of pride.
“We appreciate the passion they have for cheesemaking,” says Mindy. “And that passion shows in every block of cheese they make.”