In my family, cheese is considered its own food group. From multiple milk offerings to a myriad of textures, cheese makes good food better any way you slice it. With specialty offerings popping up across the industry, cheese is proving more and more difficult to boast. That’s why some companies have turned to their roots, unearthing age-old practices for fool-proof profits. I had the chance to speak with fourth-generation Cheesmaker and Owner of Carr Valley Cheese, Sid Cook, to find out how he plans to keep things old school in the cheese business.
“We recently took two of our cheesemakers on a trip to Germany to visit four cheese factories, a packaging company, and a manufacturing company,” Sid told me. “It was an opportunity to get out of our factory and see what's happening in other parts of the world. It really helped our cheesemakers think out of the box, keeping them innovative and quality-oriented.”
It’s true that cheesemakers reside in the heart of this business, but a company of this scale must also lean on a team of sales, marketing, and manufacturing experts.
“Every year, all of our managers get together for a day and go over where the company has been and where it's going, because not everybody from every part of the company knows what is going on in other parts,” shared Sid. “I think that's been very valuable in breaking ground within the different departments and fostering collaborations.”
While Sid and the team are honing in on how to innovate the cheese category, they are also looking to technological innovations to improve operations.
“As we grow, we're looking at more automation to make jobs easier for the people that work for us,” he said. “Many people think that automation is taking jobs away, but it's quite the opposite. I think automation is actually creating jobs because it's easier for people to do their work. Plus, you need people to repair and manage the equipment. I think it's a great thing for both employees and companies, and I see a lot more automation coming.”
And with the efficiency being added to traditional cheesemaking practices in its back pocket, Sid disclosed to me how these advancements are helping Carr Valley Cheese stay on trend.
“The industry is trending in three directions, and that is being divided up amongst commodity, specialty, and artisan,” Sid said. “There's more crossover—you have more commodity people trying to do specialty and more specialty people trying to do artisan. And I see a lot of larger companies doing artisan.”
Having absorbed all of this industry know-how, I was enlightened once more by Sid’s final thoughts on the future of cheese.
“If you want great product, you need to have great milk and a good relationship with your farms,” he said. “I have a real positive spin on the industry and I think that milk prices will be going up for farms. We made it through a tough time, and I'm sure there'll be a little bit of back and forth, but I think that all in all, we’ll have a good four, five, six years coming up.”
Look, mom! I’m a cheese expert now! (As if). It’s no small feat to get a handle on this category. Maybe in my next life I’ll be a cheesemaker, but for now, I’ll keep writing about it on Deli Market News.