From Farm to Table
U of I Dairy Partners Close to Home
Hidden away a mile north of the Moscow campus, 100 milking cows and 200 replacement heifers wander 250 acres that make up the University of Idaho Dairy Center. Operated by faculty and students in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the Dairy Center serves as an education, research and outreach tool for students and faculty as well as a touchpoint for local youth to learn more about animal agriculture.
Dairy cattle research first began at U of I in 1911 to address research needs of livestock breeders in the state. Idaho is now the third largest dairy producing state in the country, and U of I is in the design phase to build the largest research dairy in the nation near Rupert. U of I faculty use the Moscow dairy herd for research projects ranging from animal nutrition to reproduction management and students gain hands-on experience working on a small-scale dairy.
Training the Next Generation
Logan Harper grew up on a dryland farm on the rolling hills of the Palouse. She had never been on a dairy farm until a class on the principles and practices of dairy science introduced her to the industry, causing her to apply to work at the dairy. After earning her degree in agricultural systems management from U of I in fall 2018, she accepted a job as assistant manager of the dairy.
“The dairy industry was totally new to me. I knew absolutely nothing about it,” Harper said. “I always knew I wanted to work with cows, so I thought this was an awesome place to start. I started just milking cows or just working a weekend here or there and then progressively got more involved. I decided that it’s definitely what I wanted to do.”
Harper and Josh Peak, dairy manager and superintendent of the U of I Palouse Research, Extension and Education Center, try to tailor students’ experiences to their interests.
“Some want to learn more about the calving side of things, so we’ll put them in the calf barn and get them out here during calf watch,” Harper said. “Some really want to learn about milking cows and mastitis, so we’ll put them in the parlor. We try to put them where they want to see themselves and not put someone in a position where they’re not learning anything because they’re not interested.”
Partnering Close to Home
The dairy produces around 5,000 pounds — nearly 600 gallons — of milk daily.
Milk is picked up every two days with more than half going to Darigold in Spokane, Washington. The Washington State University Creamery in Pullman, Washington, and Brush Creek Creamery in Deary purchase the remaining milk depending on their needs. The partnerships with Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe at WSU and Brush Creek Creamery are relatively new. Three years ago, Darigold was the only processing facility purchasing U of I milk.
“Building relationships with local milk processors is very important to the sustainability and longevity of both the University of Idaho Dairy Center and those processors,” said Peak. “Working with Brush Creek Creamery, Ferdinand’s and Darigold is making sure that we are able to keep our product close to home for people to enjoy. This is also important for us to provide the students at the University of Idaho the experience and education they need to continue to be leaders in the dairy industry in Idaho and nationwide.”
Local Artisan Cheese
In rural Latah County, Brush Creek Creamery creates complex cheeses using traditional techniques. Three employees are responsible for making the award-winning cheeses. Every step is hands-on as the cheese is made in small batches then wrapped in cheesecloth and aged on wooden boards for 60 days. In 10 years, the popularity of their cheese has grown, and they are winning awards, including from the American Cheese Society and Idaho Milk Processors Association (IMPA). As their reputation has grown, so has their need for milk. The creamery regularly purchases milk from U of I to meet the demand for their artisan cheese.
U of I’s Holstein and Jersey cows make the perfect milk for their smoked Gouda, roasted garlic Montasio, mozzarella, Labneh and Huckleberry Havarti.
“The milk from the University of Idaho makes a better Italian cheese, which is a drier cheese, versus a brie or blue that are extremely creamy. We use a Jersey/Brown Swiss milk mixture for those,” said Brian Salmeri, co-owner of Brush Creek Creamery.
For Salmeri, the fact that U of I is so close, and the high quality of the milk, were two huge selling points.
“The fact that it’s local is huge. It’s a seven-hour round trip to Othello, Washington, which is the closest place that has what we need,” Salmeri said. “Our standard for milk is pretty high. We can’t cut quality just because the milk is closer. Once I heard U of I had Jerseys and the possibility of getting milk, I got Josh Peak’s contact and we got started.”
While demand for Brush Creek cheese has grown and the awards have poured in, Salmeri is intentional about building the business sustainably to ensure their cheese still gets the same love.
“We’d like to continue growing our relationship with the University of Idaho and our community, but we don’t want to get too big,” he said.
At the heart of it all, people want to connect in ways that are authentic and enjoyable. Colette DePhelps, U of I Extension Educator.
Farm to Table
U of I President Scott Green purchased several pounds of the creamery’s award-winning Labneh at IMPA’s annual conference and challenged U of I students to create a dish that could be served at the 2019 gala. Food and nutrition students in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences turned the cheese into an appetizer and worked with industry professionals from campus dining services to prepare the meal for the event, gaining real-life experience with large-scale food preparation focused on locally sourced foods.
The move toward local food systems has grown in recent years as consumers strive to support local farmers and better understand the origin of their food.
“Local food systems increase community members’ access to fresh, nutritious foods, make positive contributions to the local economy, and build social cohesion around the unique attributes of a particular place,” said Colette DePhelps, U of I area Extension educator in community food systems. “At the heart of it all, people want to connect in ways that are authentic and enjoyable. Local food has a face and a story that people believe they can trust.”