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1006 PD: Idaho family dairy wins national recognition for artisan cheeses

Published on 02 October 2006

When small-scale Gooding cheesemakers Stacie and Steve Ballard left the American Cheese Society’s July awards ceremony with a first-place ribbon for their Pepper Cheddar and a second-place ribbon for their Idaho Garlic Herb curds, Steve Morgan wasn’t surprised.

Morgan, a retired cheesemaker with 42 years of experience with major Pacific Northwest cheese manufacturers, has been helping Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese fine-tune its processes and recipes as part of a Small-scale Dairy Processing Assistance Program that aims to keep Idaho’s small dairies economically sustainable. The two-year program is being delivered to interested artisan and farmstead cheesemakers by the University of Idaho Department of Food Science and Toxicology, University of Idaho Extension and TechHelp Idaho, with support from the United Dairymen of Idaho.

Although the Ballards developed the two winning handmade cheeses before Morgan signed on as a consulting cheesemaker, he considers their dual awards in the flavored cheddar and flavored cheese categories as the nearly inevitable outcomes of the Ballards’ commitment to quality.

“They are doing a wonderful job,” Morgan says. “I’ve been really impressed with them, and their plant is just amazing.”

The Ballards were brand-new to cows and cheesemaking when they launched their small dairy nine years ago with just a few Jersey calves. They built their plant in 2003 and created their first batch of cheddar in 2004. Now, they have a 100-cow registered Jersey herd and are selling their flavored cheddars and cheese curds in stores and farmers’ markets throughout Idaho’s Magic and Treasure valleys. With Morgan’s assistance, they’re working on a new cheese called Ballard’s Danish Pearl. They hope to enroll it in next year’s contest, after taste testing it with their Boise farmers’ market customers and adapting it accordingly.

There were 941 entries in this year’s ACS contest.

“We’re tickled to death,” says Stacie Ballard. “It’s always a surprise to win when you have that many entries, but we work for quality. We don’t know any other way.”

Jeff Kronenberg, University of Idaho Extension food processing specialist and director of the Small-Scale Dairy Processing Assistance Program, says he was “very pleasantly surprised” by the Ballards’ success in Portland because “they were up against some really tough competition. You have to have a super high-quality cheese because you’re being tested by the palates of some pretty discerning judges from the food science and culinary-restaurant areas.”

In addition to providing Morgan’s coaching, the project has assisted the Ballards with their food labels, with regulatory paperwork and with their website (www.ballardcheese.com). TechHelp marketing manager Bill Mullane, who is experienced in commercial webpage design, is helping the Ballards “ramp up” their site in time for holiday sales.

In turn, the Ballards are helping the Idaho dairy industry, says UDI communications director Cheri Storey. “Because the majority of milk that’s produced in Idaho goes into cheese, it’s good for everyone when you have a small dairy out there that’s producing its own cheese and selling it locally in the state,” says Storey. “Their award brings attention to the dairy industry in Idaho, and that’s good for all dairy farms.”

The Ballards are active participants in the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s Idaho Preferred® program, and Johnson says, “It’s great to see their hard work paying off.” PD

—Submitted by United Dairymen of Idaho

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