Starkville — Some of the goodies under the Christmas trees in Mississippi and other states come from dairy cows raised on the ranches run by Mississippi State University (MSU). In one of the longest running holiday traditions in the state, this season MSU will sell about 118,000 thousands blocks of cheese manufactured at the MSU dairy processing plant.
Edam cheese in three-pound balls is the most popular, totaling approximately 46,000 balls. Cheddar cheese in two-pound blocks is the next best seller at 42,000, followed by Vallegret at 8,000 blocks, Jalapeno pepper cheese in two-pound blocks at 7,000, Jalapeno pepper spread and cheese spread at 3,000 and 2,000 reduced fat Edams. The spreads come in a crock with the MSU emblem on it, and the crock can be reused.
Despite the high numbers, every season MSU sells out. “I’ve been here six years, and we have sold out of cheese at Christmas every year I have been here,” said David Hall, diary processing plant manager. “We don’t do any advertising at all. I’m sure that a majority of our customers are alumni of Mississippi State, or have received cheese from someone else, and start ordering it. We don’t do any advertising at all.”
Each year people get turned down when the supplies of cheese run out. Some of them get pretty upset, and don’t understand why MSU doesn’t make more. But Hall said these are high-quality cheeses that are aged a minimum of three months to improve the flavor. And considering the size of their equipment, it isn’t possible to increase production.
Order early to be sure you get what you want, is Hall’s advice.
The most popular types of cheese start selling out in mid November.
About 90% of the sales occur around the Christmas holidays, with another sales spurt around Easter. All of the raw milk used to produce the cheese comes from nearby dairy herds managed by the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES).
MSU cheese has been a tradition since 1938. A new offering this year is online ordering at www.msucheese.com. That Web site also includes a history of cheese making at State.
All the milk comes from MSU cows. In addition to the dairy farm in Starkville, that is supplemented with milk from a MSU branch station at Newton.
The dairy processing plant also produces ice cream, milk, buttermilk and butter. The products are distributed at campus cafeterias and are also purchased by fraternities and sororities. All the milk used on campus comes from the dairy plant. There are seven full-time employees who work in the dairy plant, and students work part-time to help with waxing and boxing the cheese.
There is a good reason for the holiday sales beyond the cheeses making excellent Christmas presents. The goods are not refrigerated. That works fine during the cooler months, but might present problems during the warmer times of year.
In addition to providing for university needs, the milk, ice cream, cheese and butter are also available for sale to the general public in a store on campus. There are 16 flavors of ice cream, including one unique to MSU, Muscadine Ripple. Muscadines grown at some of the branch stations of MSU are used to make a weak jelly that is rippled into vanilla ice cream.
While the dairy business at MSU is self-supporting, its primary focus is not profit, but student education.
“We’re not here to act as a business,” Hall said. “Our purpose is to provide a small diary processing plant where students going into the field can work. Students in a classroom talking about a pasteurizer can come down and see what one looks like. That is why we exist, and why it was started in the first place. We get no outside funds from any other sources. All of our expenses are paid out of revenues from sales of product.”
MAFES Sales Store manager Deborah Huffman said the cheese products are popular for companies to order as gifts to give clients or customers.
“I think it is rather unique,” Huffman said. “Edam and Vallegret, you can’t buy at most stores.”
Huffman said she has customers who buy jalapeno pepper cheese to make spinach Madeleine. And she knows customers who use Vallegret with fig preserves as an appetizer. She personally likes using the Vallegret to substitute for mozzarella cheese in chicken parmesan.
The MSU cheese making tradition started with dairy scientist F.H. Herzer in 1938, a time when the area around the college was one of the South’s leading dairy centers. The college decided to manufacturer Edam because of its distinctive cannon ball shape, traditional quality and the fact that MSU would be the first to produce Edam in the South. Herzer placed a rush order with Dutch manufacturers for 10 teakwood hoops, or molds used to make Edam from Holland in 1938. The order was shipped just before Dutch ports were closed by the outbreak of World War II.
Today, the Edam cheese ball is a recognized symbol of Mississippi State’s heritage.
For more information, contact the MAFES Sales Store, (601) 325-2338.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.