WCMA Notes: Assistance Abounds for Artisans

Posted By: John Umhoefer WCMA News,


Assistance Abounds for Artisans

Artisan and specialty cheesemakers returning home fired up by the American Cheese Society annual meeting in early August have a wealth of assistance waiting to boost their business.

Here’s nine current opportunities to grow, market and protect your cheese venture.

1.USDA’s Dairy Innovation Initiative

Dairy organizations across the nation will learn in August if they’ve won new grants from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to build innovation centers focused on helping dairy farmers and small cheesemakers grow specialty dairy enterprises. The brainchild of Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, this innovation initiative is codified in the new Farm Bill.  USDA allocated $1.5 million to build at least three innovation centers this year, and there’s room in the Farm Bill to allocate millions more to this effort in coming years.  As conceived, half the dollars USDA gives to each center will be offered as grants to specialty processors or farmstead dairies with new product ideas, facility or process updates, modernization and specialization at farms and product marketing. The other half of dollars for each center are used to provide direct technical assistance – training, consultants, mentoring – to build business plans, assist with product development and marketing, find market niches and try new technology.

2. New Grant Dollars at TURBO

Complementing the USDA program, Wisconsin’s Economic Development Corporation awarded Center for Dairy Research (CDR) in Madison $350,000 in 2019 to help new and existing small dairy businesses. This program will reimburse 75 percent of the cost of business consultant fees for small businesses that offer value-added dairy products. TURBO, the business development and technology transfer wing of CDR, will kick off reimbursement grants this summer.

3. Rural Capital Access

WCMA is working with Wisconsin legislators and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) to carve out a special category of loan guarantees for rural agribusinesses from existing WHEDA programs. The Wisconsin Senate approved language targeting $3 million for rural agribusiness and the state Assembly is being urged to take up this WCMA concept in the coming weeks.

4. Dairy Food Safety Alliance

Smaller dairy plant leaders wear many hats, and the Dairy Food Safety Alliance offers a free resource to keep busy processors up to date on state and federal food safety regulations.  The Alliance, a partnership of WCMA, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and CDR, meets again August 27 with hot topics for plant leaders, including updates on the Food Safety Modernization Act, the product recall team at Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, and advice on third party audits from Organic Valley Cooperative.

5. USDEC Group Consolidation

In 2019, U.S. Dairy Export Council has focused a significant portion of its cheese export efforts on specialty cheese marketing.  This enhanced focus on specialty cheese is evident in the Group Consolidation Task Force, a nationwide team of processors focused on building a successful program to consolidate small-batch specialty cheeses in the U.S., deliver products overseas, and arrange cold storage and retail distribution in key cheese markets.

6. Affordable Brine Safety

WCMA’s recent Artisan Dairy Food Safety Initiative helped more than 80 small cheesemakers prepare detailed food safety plans and yielded a novel research idea now underway. WCMA, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are looking at the simple, cost-effective idea of using hydrogen peroxide as part of best management practices for cheese brines at small dairies to assure brines are pathogen free. The renowned Food Research Institute and CDR on the University of Wisconsin campus are testing the effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide in samples of real small-plant brines and initial results are promising.

7. Cheesemaker License Test Preparation

An all-new workshop from CDR offers aspiring cheesemakers a perfect final preparation for the licensing exam in Wisconsin. “Preparing for the Wisconsin Cheesemaker License Exam,” a one-day workshop, will be offered August 29 in Eau Claire, WI, Sept. 10 in Barneveld, WI, and Sept. 12 in Appleton.

8. Artisan Supplier Food Safety

A new food safety workshop will premiere Sept. 20 in Monroe, WI, teaching artisan cheese producers how to identify, qualify and mitigate risks posed by ingredients, packaging, equipment and services. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy have modified a supply chain workshop for larger manufacturers to benefit smaller cheesemakers. 

9. Certificate in Dairy Processing

CDR’s popular certificate series returns this fall, beginning Sept. 4., featuring in-person trainings and 10 live, online modules that deliver a deep dive for dairy manufacturers into milk composition, cheesemaking, sanitation, dairy ingredients, cheese ripening, whey production and more.

This is merely a sampling of current opportunities for artisan and specialty cheesemakers. Offerings continue at Center for Dairy Research, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, and other great institutions like American Cheese Society, Cornell University, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and U.S. Dairy Export Council are focused on specialty cheese success.

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