Cheese-making Could Complement States Dairy Industry

Ronald D. Bardwell, Merrill, Thomas A., Hodson, Pamela, Morgan, Johnny W.  |  4/19/2005 10:29:24 PM

News Release Distributed 06/11/04 

Filling the market for specialty cheeses could be one way to add value to the state’s dairy industry, according to experts.

The LSU AgCenter and others recently brought together dairy farmers, retailers and wine and cheese makers for a symposium to explore those possibilities.

"We’re just looking for any way that we can help the dairy farmers through this tough time that they’re going through," said LSU AgCenter dairy agent Dr. Ronnie Bardwell, who helped to plan the symposium.

Bardwell said one factor to consider was exactly how much interest there may be in manufacturing specialty cheeses. And Dr. Pam Hodson, the LSU AgCenter’s regional director for Southeast Louisiana, where most of the state’s dairy producers are located, said the participation in the symposium showed Louisiana dairy producers are interested in using cheese as a value-added product.

"I see this as an opportunity to bring together various industries. We have a couple of wine makers here, as well as economic development people, along with our dairy farmers," Hodson said.

The symposium was designed to focus on a variety of aspects related to the feasibility of filling the market for specialty cheeses in the state – particularly in the New Orleans area.

One of its major features was Nevil McNaughton, an international cheese-making consultant from New Zealand, who spoke about his success in the "high-end cheese market."

McNaughton said it appears the market for such products already exists and that there is a "core group" of cheese-makers already operating in the state.

But expanding the production is a key, according to McNaughton and others.

"You will have to be big enough to guarantee your customers that you will be able to deliver on time," McNaughton said, explaining that consistent distribution was the major huddle to conquer.

But the LSU AgCenter’s Hodson said such hurdles could be overcome through a "group effort."

"It’s a lot easier to broker cheese if there is a group of cheese-makers producing for the restaurants in New Orleans," the LSU AgCenter’s Hodson said, adding, "Maybe the production can be set up on the Northshore."

During the seminar early in June at Southeastern Louisiana University’s Small Business Development Center, McNaughton also gave potential cheese producers advice on business and marketing strategies.

"There’s one thing to remember, and that is nobody knows the future. So you don’t want to put everything on one type of cheese," he said, adding, "There’s a need to have variety, because you just can’t tell where your next success will come from."

McNaughton advised the group to build on what’s already available, as far as market information.

"You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – every question has already been answered," he said, adding, "You will never live long enough to learn from your own mistakes. Try to learn from the other guys’ mistakes."

As for the potential market for specialty or gourmet cheeses in Louisiana, New Orleans food entrepreneur Jim Delery said one market definitely exists.

"We know there’s a market for specialty cheeses. We just need to find out who the players will be and develop a business plan to fill the hole that’s in the market," Delery said, adding, "There are 8 billion pounds of cheese consumed in the U.S. marketplace."

Stressing that Americans are eating more cheese than ever before, Delery also said his calculations from New Orleans retailers show that approximately $1 million worth of specialty or gourmet cheese is sold in New Orleans every year. He explained that the sales outlets also are already in place – such as farmers’ markets, retailers and wholesalers.

"There’s an extreme gourmet food demand by locals and major tourist dining," Delery said, adding, "We have a regional population of 1.3 million people with 33,000 rooms of diners."

Delery also said that there are three regional farmers’ markets in New Orleans, Covington and Baton Rouge.

"The market demands consistent production, pricing structured to quality and reliable distribution," he said. "But we have approximately 25 upscale retail locations, over 100 restaurant buyers and eight wholesale distributors."

The LSU AgCenter’s Bardwell said the next step is to get together with the people who are serious about cheese-making and put together a business plan.

"We’ll get together with Nevil (McNaughton) and Jim Delery to see how many people are serious, and then put together our plan," Bardwell said, adding that the group hopes to get a plan together and build a processing plant in the area to handle the manufacturing of the cheese.

For additional information on cheese-making, contact Bardwell at (985) 549-3170 – or for a variety of information on topics ranging from food and nutrition to crops and livestock, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contacts: Pam Hodson at (985) 543-4129 or phodson@agcenter.lsu.edu
Ronnie Bardwell at (985) 549-3170 or rbardwell@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writers: Johnny Morgan at (504) 838-1170 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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