The 2023 CheeseCon event was held April 4-6, 2023 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Co-produced by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) and the Center for Dairy Research, this event brings together more than 3,000 dairy industry leaders, suppliers, and marketers together to share information about the latest in cheese manufacturing technology, workforce, whey opportunities, product safety, marketing, and dairy exports. The three-day event featured a tabletop exhibit floor on April 5th with concurrent conference sessions focusing on Sustainable and Safe cheese production.
Announced Changes in WCMA Leadership and Growing Membership
Tim Omer of Emmi Roth was elected to serve as President of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. Omer will assume leadership on July 1, 2023, succeeding Steve Bechel of Eau Galle Cheese as he completes his two-year maximum term in the role.
As President, Omer will lead an executive team that includes Doug Wilke of Valley Queen Cheese as First Vice President, Mike Sipple of Agropur as Second Vice President, Kim Heiman of Nasonville Dairy as Treasurer, and Chris Renard of Renard’s Cheese as Secretary. All four were selected to continue in their leadership roles for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.
Four industry leaders were also selected to join the WCMA Board of Directors. Mathew Bartkowiak of Nelson-Jameson, Paul Bauer of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Steve Doyle of Sartori Cheese, and Bob Greco of Cheese Merchants of America will begin their first terms on the Board July 1.
WCMA sincerely thanked the outgoing members who will complete their maximum terms on the Board this year: Steve Bechel of Eau Galle Cheese, Craig Filkouski of Great Lakes Cheese, Mike Neu of Chr. Hansen, and Paul Scharfman of Specialty Cheese Company.
“It’s a privilege to have the thoughtful guidance and support of these leaders in dairy processing,” said WCMA Executive Director John Umhoefer. “We’re grateful to those leaving the Board this year, and we look forward bringing the four first-time Board members into the Association’s leadership body.”
During the April 4 meeting to elect new officers, the WCMA Board of Directors also voted to expand the board from its current 21 seats to 27. The change, which reflects the Association’s unprecedented nationwide membership growth, will take effect beginning July 1, 2024.
Notes on Compressed Air Safety and Sustainability
Alex O’Brien, the Quality/Safety Coordinator at the Center for Dairy Research, said the dairy processing industry overwhelmingly uses SQF as the quality management system. 3-A is the main standard used to certify the dairy processing equipment. He said most firms are engaged with complying with the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) for Grade B milk and cheese processing. Interestingly, his experience in a prior job included having to de-contaminate, at great expense, the entire compressed air piping system – due to a moisture and oil breakthrough.
I met with Frank Melch, from Zorn Compressor & Equipment, whose firm had a booth. He showed me the ISO 8573.1 Quality Class Testing Program, for compressed air, which they are providing to their clients in the dairy processing industry. They are enabling a sampling program where the Quality Management teams can have compressed air samples sent to a laboratory for regular testing and reporting. “We have found that Maintenance and Quality Control are normally two different groups in cheese manufacturing,” said Melch. “It’s our job to work with both the quality management teams and also the maintenance staffs, in the mechanical rooms, to ensure reliable and efficient compressed air production and purification systems.” I’d like to thank Frank and Zorn for providing guidance as we research “Best Practices” in cheese manufacturing.
Reflecting these two different disciplines, there were several Process Quality testing firms present and a whole host of process automation and sensor technology firms. Jake Parr, from Certified Group, confirmed that compressed air has long been tested through the process of spraying compressed air onto a sampling “pad”. Bob Colvin, from Matrix Sciences, said they conduct compressed air safety audits by doing yeast and mold aerobic APC plate counts. He also had experience using the Parker Balston CAMTU inline compressed air quality testing product.
What I found interesting is most testing firms were focused on yeast and mold – not on the compressed air contaminants the compressed air industry talks about; moisture, solid particulates, oil and oil vapor. My work with the 3-A Committee, working on a new “Guideline for Compressed Air” provided a similar experience. The focus is to prevent biological contamination in the food product.
IFM had their automation process sensors and their compressed air flow meter on display. The flow meter also provides temperature and pressure measurements. Director of Sales John Isabell said the products are manufactured in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
Charles Ries, from J&W Instruments, was displaying a Schubert & Salzer digital positioner (Model 8049) which does not consume compressed air when the process is idle. Jason Kirsling, from RW Baron, the GD Nash representative in Wisconsin, said cheese manufacturing uses dry vacuum pumps, so they were displaying their cheese processing technologies.
Rod Smith and Frank Melch (left to right) at the Zorn Compressor & Equipment booth.
IFM Efector Director of Sales, John Isabell, in front of their automation sensors and compressed air flow meters.
Jason Kirsling, from RW Baron, the representative for GD Nash in Wisconsin.
The Cheese Auction
An exuberant crowd of dairy processors, marketers, and suppliers raised an impressive $339,835 for dairy education at the 2023 Chr. Hansen Championship Cheese Auction, held the final day of CheeseCon. The funds support industry training programs offered by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA), as well as the World and U.S. Championship Cheese Contests and university dairy training centers.
“Each year we see the generosity of the dairy processing industry come to life at the Auction, and this year’s bidders broke the record yet again to benefit the next generation of leaders,” said WCMA Executive Director John Umhoefer. “Our sincerest thanks go to all those who raised their paddles to contribute to the scholarships and education that help grow and strengthen our industry."
Winners of the 2023 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest were on display at CheeseCon .
For over 25 years, Auction dollars have supported emerging dairy professionals through WCMA’s Mike Dean and Cheese Industry Supplier Student Scholarships. Funds raised at the Auction have also helped fund WCMA’s popular training programs for dairy manufacturers and suppliers, and fueled donations to build the new world-class Center for Dairy Research facility in Madison, as well as dairy pilot plants at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls and South Dakota State University. Thanks to generous Auction bids, the World and U.S. Championship Cheese Contests and the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest improve and grow each year. Altogether, WCMA has invested $1.3 million in the next generation of the dairy processing industry.
This year’s Auction featured a total of 79 gold medal cheeses, butters, and yogurts from the 2023 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, organized into 42 lots. WCMA sincerely thanks all of the winning bidders for their generous support: Advanced Process Technologies Inc.; Atlantic Grain; ALPMA, Cheese Market News; the Marvin & Debra Cherney Family Foundation; Chr. Hansen; Complete Filtration Resources; Custom Fabricating & Repair; Cybertrol Engineering; Dairy Connection, Inc.; Dairy Products Marketing; Darlington Dairy Supply; DSM Food Specialties; G&R Foods; Great Lakes Cheese; Hydrite; Kelley Supply, Inc.; Loos Machine & Automation; Marquez Brothers International; Masters Gallery Foods; Nelson-Jameson; Novak’s Cheese; ProActive Solutions USA; RELCO, a Koch Separation Solutions Company; Sugar River Cold Storage; T.C. Jacoby; TC Transcontinental; and Wisconsin Aging & Grading Cheese.
The next event will be CheeseExpo, taking place April 16-18, 2024, at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. CheeseCon will return to Madison on April 15-17, 2025.
WCMA membership is open to dairy processors, manufacturers, marketers, and suppliers nationwide. More information is available at https://www.wischeesemakersassn.org/become-a-member
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