An innovative mega-press that has cut production time and boosted food safety has earned goat milk processor Mariposa Dairy a Premier’s Award for Excellence in Agri-Food Innovation. Owner Bruce Vandenberg says the new press solved some key labour issues and is now letting the company, based in Lindsay, expand to meet growing market demand.
The mega-press, built locally through a manufacturer in Peterborough, has shortened the length of time it takes to prepare cheese for processing by separating curds from whey in only 24 hours – a process that used to take four days and involved a lot of back-breaking labour.
Under the old system, up to 1,000 bags the size of pillow cases were filled daily and hung to drain the whey. Workers had to turn the bags over on the second and third days and then empty and wash them on day four. The new press uses large bags that are squeezed mechanically, completing the task in only one day.
“We used to do this process using small bags and we were growing so fast, we were using up to 1,000 small bags per day. It was a bit like trying to farm a large farm with a small tractor. It was also labour-intensive work that was hard on our staff,” explains Vandenberg. “We had to re-invent how we could do this and although there were other systems around the world, it was this design that involved hardly any strenuous labour.”
It was this process that was Mariposa’s big limiting factor when it came to growth, says Vandenberg, adding that now, if they want to continue expanding, they can just add additional pressing machines. The other big benefit to the company from the new press has been significant advances in food safety. If cheese can’t be cooled fast enough during processing, it can create yeast issues which changes the flavour of the cheese.
“The proof is really in the pudding – we’ve been winning a lot of awards for our cheese since we switched to this new system, which cools and presses the cheese in one day instead of four,” says Vandenberg.
In August of this year, Mariposa’s line of Celebrity International goat and sheep’s milk cheeses won five awards at the American Cheese Society annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. That included placing in the Fresh Goat’s Milk Cheese category for their flavored cranberry and cinnamon, as well as their dill, honey and Mediterranean-flavored cheeses. A joint product between Mariposa Dairy and Quality Cheese earned second place for the Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve Ashley Soft Ripened Goat Cheese with Vegetable Ash in the Goat’s Open Milk Category.
Mariposa also had a banner year at the Royal Winter Fair in 2012, winning 11 awards for their cheese products. Their Tania Sheep Cheese placed first in the Sheep’s Milk category and the Celebrity International Blueberry Cinnamon cheese won the Flavoured Cheese category. In fact, Mariposa placed a total of nine products in the top 12 in that category, sweeping the top six spots. They also placed in the Firm Cheese category with their Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar and in Unflavoured Fresh Cheeses with their Celebrity International cheese.
Despite its success, Mariposa Dairy isn’t resting on its laurels and Vandenberg is already looking ahead to further expansion. The company’s growth has not come at the expense of any of its competitors, he says, but rather from the rapid growth of the category. Goat cheese is quickly evolving from a niche to a commodity product, with year-round demand and expansion into food service.
“We work on the motto “if we can’t find it, we build it,” and we have a full-time engineer on staff now,” says Vandenberg. “It was really nice for us to win this award. We’ve grown 20 times in the last six years and we need to keep getting bigger to ensure we can keep producing a good, safe product and have staff that can help us do that. We’re just trying to hang on and enjoy the ride.”
Written by Lilian Schaer for Ontario Goat.