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University Park, PA—As Penn State University’s Berkey Creamery marks its sesquicentennial anniversary this year, the dairy plant is also celebrating increased production volume, a rise in food science students and future expansion plans.
As part of the festivities, the University Libraries’ Franklin Atrium has created a new exhibit on display now through Dec. 15 which includes artifacts used by employees during the Creamery’s 150-year history.
“We are known for ice cream as Wisconsin and WSU are known for cheese.”
—Tom Palchak, Berkey Creamery manager
“Artifacts like containers, bottles, tools and equipment help us understand the early years of the Creamery dairy plant and the lives of the employees who worked at that time,” said Tom Palchak, who has served as Berkey Creamery manager since October 1986.
“The objects not only tell a story, but also show the type of materials used by past employees. These artifacts are touchstones that bring memories to life and provide us a glimpse of the Creamery’s history,” he said.
A range of items on display includes an 1894 ledger book noting sales to customers with regionally prominent names, milk bottles, iterations of dairy and ice creaming containers, and ice cream scoops signed by contemporary celebrity visitors.
Creamery representatives will also participate in “Research on the Road,” traveling to other Penn State campuses and alumni association conferences, talking about the latest dairy research.
“The creamery has a great story to tell, and we’re willing to share it with anyone who is interested in learning more about it,” Palchak said.
On Oct. 19, the Penn State homecoming football game will celebrate Ag Day, in which the football team itself will have a Creamery theme. Ag students will have the opportunity to unfurl the flag at halftime.
Berkey Creamery has also created a special 150th anniversary flavor aptly called “Birthday Bash.” Management made the choice after more than 1,700 votes were submitted when the Creamery called for name suggestions.
“The outpouring of devotion,
excitement and participation during this momentous occasion in the Creamery’s history is simply amazing,” said James Brown, assistant manager.
The Creamery began offering the new flavor during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in July, selling its initial run of 300 gallons in four days.
Half-gallons of Birthday Bash will be available starting Sept. 12 for the opening home game of the
2015 football season.
Ice cream is the creamery’s hallmark. Since March 2015, Berkey Creamery has been producing about 8,000 gallons per week – well over 350,000 gallons this year.
“It’s been a non-stop explosion for ice cream,” Palchak said. “We are known for ice cream as Wisconsin and WSU are known for cheese.”
However, we still produce all the fluid milk on campus, along with two flavors of a Class I milk-based sports drink. We’re able to help dairy farmers when we can produce a new and novel product like that, Palchak said.
“What’s really novel is the amount of cheese we produce,” he continued. “We make about 90,000 pounds of Cheddar each year, which is far below Wisconsin and WSU, but nevertheless – it still amounts to about half a million pounds of milk per year allocated for that product.”
Cheddar styles include White, Dill, Garlic, Pimento and traditional Yellow Cheddar.
Berkey’s cheese line also includes Ricotta and skim milk Ricotta – roughly 30,000 pounds and 20,000 pounds per year, respectively.
And the Creamery is well-known for its Cream cheese, which totals close to 100,000 pounds per year. Varieties include both light and regular, with flavors from blueberry to honey, pimento to pineapple.
About 70 percent of the Creamery’s milk supply comes from the station herd on campus, which ranges from 220 to 280 Holsteins, with a rolling herd average of between 29,500 to 30,000 pounds per year. The Creamery also buys milk from three local farms.
Berkey Creamery exclusively supplies milk products for the University Park campus, which is home to about 42,000 under-grads, between 6,000 and 7,000 graduate students, and university employees.
“We have a lot to do just supplying the University Park campus,” Palchak said. “However, our products are also available online and we ship out nearly every day.”
“In the fall and winter, cheese box sales go rampant,” he continued.
We also supply all the eateries on campus, which are quite significant, Palchak said. If some restaurants run low on product, they’ll buy dairy products on occasion.
“Now, that’s very carefully monitored because we don’t do any retail sales off campus. Our creamery trucks won’t deliver off campus in order to protect the industry and the state from unfair competition,” he said. “But if they come in and pay retail price to fill an
emergency, that’s perfectly fine.”
Running the Creamery is a team of 24 full-time employees, including a complete office staff, lab director, maintenance engineer, delivery driver, sales room attendants, and 18 production employees. Berkey Creamery also has an active food science internship program.
“I keep that open for students in dairy science and ag bioengineering majors,” Palchak said. “If they have a true interest in process control and food safety, we have them in the plant. We started the program back in 1986, and we’re very happy with it.”
Number Of Dairy, Food Science
Students Continues To Climb
Penn State’s department of dairy and animal science, which is separate from food science, is burgeoning, according to Palchak, with the highest number of students seen in the last 25 years.
In food science, we’re closing in on about 250 undergraduate students. Just a few years ago, there was between 80 and 90 students, Palchak said.
“There’s no question in my mind in terms of understanding the current culture, more and more people are finding out that there are tremendously well-paying jobs and great careers available in agriculture,” he said.
“On either side of the farm gate, it’s really great to see such interest,” he continued.
Creamery To Upgrade Ice Cream
Equipment, Re-design Cheese
Operation To Include More Styles
In order to adjust to the new reality of production volume, Berkey Creamery has recently issued a purchase order just shy of $1 million to replace both freezers, fruit feeder and filling machine.
“As soon as that’s done, we’re going to completely revamp our cheesemaking operation. We’re going to take out our open-air vats and enclose the vats, and expand to allow for a greater variety of cheeses,” Palchak said.
“Those two are on the pipeline, and one is actually in progress; the other is in design,” he continued. “We have a lot on our plate right now.”
When it comes to everyday operations, Palchak said he’s fond of saying “ETU – expect the unexpected” and “We’re never-ending.”
“These are my two mantras,” he said. “It’s vitally important that dairy plants on university campuses that are viable remain relevant,” Palchak said.
“This means trying to develop as many ag or dairy manufacturing type of offerings to students as possible,” he said.
“Each one of us has our tried and true fall-backs, but staying relevant means teaching other facets such as food safety and addressing FSMA regulations in an appropriate way,” Palchak said.
“There’s so many different off-shoots in working in a dairy plant, but the experience is invaluable,” he said. “The more we can expose these students to not just frozen desserts but cultured dairy products and fluid milk for beverage consumption, the better.”
“As soon as that’s done, we’re going to completely revamp our cheesemaking operation. We’re going to take out our open-air vats and enclose the vats, and expand to allow for a greater variety of cheeses.”
“These students are coming out so well-prepared that they’re entertaining multiple job offers,” he said.
“This is very important, which is why I believe there is a pendulum swinging back towards university dairy plants and creameries,” Palchak said. “I think it’s vital that agriculture on the college level stay relevant, and part of that is with a dairy plant.”
For more information on Berkey Creamery, visit www.creamery.psu.edu.