ice cream

Say Cheese

cheese productionSmall-scale dairy operations in Connecticut and throughout the country offer cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products direct to consumers and through wholesale distribution. The popularity of local food has increased interest in these operations, and led to a greater need for food safety education and training.

Dennis D’Amico is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on food technology, quality, and safety. His applied research is integrated with his Extension work. D’Amico works closely with the dairy industry to develop risk reduction interventions and technical outreach programs. When he first started at UConn he worked directly with several Connecticut producers, learn- ing the unique issues they face.

D’Amico takes small-scale producers’ challenges back to his laboratory to test and develop interventions to see if they will actually work. He defines an actionable intervention as something a producer can implement without significant expense. A team of undergraduate and graduate students work in his laboratory researching each aspect of a problem.

“My work with Extension is rewarding, there’s nothing better than hearing about a problem, and then making someone’s day by helping them solve their problem. Having that immediate impact is what makes me smile,” D’Amico says. “Extension provides diversity to my day, I meet with different people with various needs and it makes me think about dairy food science and safety from new angles.”

In-person trainings are limited to time and geography in some cases. D’Amico and his colleagues are using technology to address the limitations. An online food safety course for artisan chessemakers was created first, and launched in 2017. A website of resources was built to accompany the course in partnership with the American Cheese Society, and is available to anyone at www.safecheesemaking.org. Feedback for the course is positive, and has led to additional projects.

“We’re building a repertoire of dairy food safety resources,” D’Amico concludes. “Many of the next steps in my research and Extension program build off of previous work. Producers need solutions they can implement now, but there is a gap in education and interventions available, and that’s what we’re trying to fill. We don’t want producers operating blindly.”

D’Amico is currently working with another group of colleagues to build an online course for small- scale ice cream producers. “Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have shown that ice cream is not the safe haven some thought it was,” he says. “There are food safety issues specific to ice cream that need to be addressed.” An accompanying website is also under development for ice cream food safety resources.

Team members know that training people to identify environmental pathogens in a dairy plant is best done in person. However, time and geography constraints still exist. D’Amico is collaborating with his colleagues at North Carolina State University on a virtual reality simulator that will provide this training. The simulation includes case studies to further enhance learning.

A Food Safety Plan Coaching Workshop for small-scale dairy producers helps producers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The three- year project funded by USDA offers six workshops per year. “We’re focusing the workshop on underserved regions where there aren’t dairy foods specialists avail- able,” D’Amico says.

A core group of trainers, including D’Amico, serve as national coaches and travel to each region, collaborating with regional resources and connecting producers. There is one regional coach for each six participants. At the workshop, participants form groups based on their stage in the FSMA process, and leave the work- shop having made measurable progress on their written food safety plan.

Best Practices guides are another project undergoing a digital transformation. “We first published the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers in 2015, and it’s updated every two years,” D’Amico says. “However, the next version will be click- able and user friendly. Instead of a 300-page PDF, the user can click directly on the section they need. We are also developing a similar toolkit for retailers. This is another collaboration with the American Cheese Society.”

Consumer demand will continue to drive consumption of dairy products and local food. Even in best case scenarios, food safety issues will arise. Small-scale dairy producers and consumers can be confident that D’Amico and his team of students are searching for solutions and developing tools to share new actionable interventions.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Live Local UConn Trail

iPad-landscapeLive Local Connecticut is a UConn Extension program encouraging residents to live locally through food and gardening, and ties into our Live Local app. The Live Local UConn Trail highlights a few locations in and around UConn’s Storrs campus where you can live locally.

UConn Trail:

Dog Lane Cafe – the menu and daily specials emphasize seasonal, local, and freshly-prepared food, all made to order.

UConn Dairy Bar – the award winning UConn Dairy Bar features delicious ice cream made from our own UConn cows.

UConn Blooms – serving the UConn community with high-quality flowers and plants for most occassions.

UConn Dining Food Trucks – “Food for Thought” and the “Ice Cream Truck” have hit the streets!

UConn Dining – Whitney Unit – Whitney “Local Routes” offers a sustainable and local menu featuring seasonal food items from a variety of local farmers and food producers including our own UConn Gold honey, UConn eggs, UConn Dairy Bar ice cream and produce from the UConn EcoGarden.

Visit the UConn Animal Barns – Everyone is welcome to explore our animal barns and learn more about the animals that are used in the Department of Animal Science program. Visitors can see dairy and beef cows, sheep, and horses. The poultry units are closed to the public.

Storrs Farmers Market – Since 1994, Storrs Farmers Market has been proud to provide the greater Mansfield community with fresh, local produce, meats, dairy, baked goods, and more.

UConn Farm Fresh Market – UConn offers a Farm Fresh Market in season on Fairfield Way. The market offers fresh local produce from our own Spring Valley Student Fam and other local farms, baked goods from our Not Just Desserts bakery, local honey, and many other local products each week.

Tri-County Greenhouse – Tri-County Greenhouse is open year round and offers products grown on site, unique to the season. Tri-County Greenhouse is a division of the nonprofit agency Tri-County ARC INC. Their goal is to provide individuals with disabilities paid training and meaningful work experience in a retail horticultural setting. Tri-County Greenhouse is located adjacent to the UConn Depot Campus.

Farmer’s Cow Calfe – Merging the fun environment of a dairy bar with a neighborhood cafe, and the ability to purchase the full line of The Farmer’s Cow products all in one place. Plus, experience our one-of-a-kiind milk bar. The Calfe is located just a short distance from UConn.

For more information on how to Live Local in Connecticut, download our app, or visit the website.

UConn Creamery Excited to Return to Cheese Production

Cheese blocks(best)The UConn Creamery has been an integral part of the Animal Science Department since 1953. As the winner of countless “Best of” awards, the demand for the famous UConn ice cream is ever increasing.  Meanwhile, throughout the United States, consumer interest in local foods including specialty and artisan cheeses continues to drive the explosive growth of small scale, diversified, and value-added dairy production.

 

In response to growing demand, Dr. Dennis D’Amico joined UConn’s Departments of Animal Science this fall as an Assistant Professor. Dr. D’Amico, a food microbiologist who specializes in dairy foods, will utilize the creamery as both a research and teaching unit. “There are unique challenges and opportunities for value added dairy production that the Department of Animal Science is poised to address,” Dr. D’Amico begins. “While there are a lot of people interested in learning the art and science of cheese-making as a general interest, hobby or career, there are very few credible places they can learn how to do that. My goal is to strengthen and enhance value-added dairy production through my appointment with UConn Extension. I want to encourage sustainability of rural working landscapes in the northeast and elsewhere.”

 

Dr. D’Amico’s research focus is on improving the safety and quality of artisan cheese. For more than a decade he has worked extensively with students and producers alike through his position at the University of Vermont, where he worked on product development, process control, environmental monitoring, and the development and implementation of food safety management systems. His first class offering at UConn, Animal Food Products: Dairy Technology will be offered in the spring semester of 2015.

 

As a founding member of the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, Dr. D’Amico also makes cheese, and will use his skills and experience on the production floor to re-introduce the UConn Creamery as a cheese production facility enhancing the teaching, research, and outreach missions of the University, and increasing opportunities for education across the board.

 

Cheese production“One of the best opportunities in my new position is the access to the milk produced at UConn’s Kellogg Dairy Center (KDC) to make our cheese,” D’Amico mentions. “Executive Program Director Mary Margaret Cole and the KDC staff were recently awarded Top Quality Milk Honors from AgriMark and were also selected as the 2013 Gold Winner in the National Dairy Quality Awards Program for the National Mastitis Council. Great cheese starts with great milk and we have the best. Our cheese is a great way to accentuate and showcase this quality.”

 

“The UConn Creamery flagship cheese will be our traditional cheddar that will be aged and offered as mild, medium, sharp and extra sharp. “Since cheddar needs time to develop flavor,” Dr. D’Amico states, “we will kick things off with two fresh cheeses, an old favorite produced at the creamery in years past called juustoleipa and a new versatile cheese in the style of queso blanco.” Both have received rave reviews.

 

In 2014, in addition to cheese-making operations, Dr. D’Amico will be focusing on the U.S. Dairy Food Safety Initiative with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy developing and delivering a harmonized artisan cheese safety training program for regulators, inspectors, cheese makers, and retailers as part of his appointment with UConn Extension. This training, entitled “Food Safety and Hygiene in Artisan Cheese Making” is available throughout the country and has already drawn more than 400 attendees. The class will be offered at UConn in spring 2014. Dr. D’Amico is also planning 3-day cheese and ice cream making short courses in the future at the UConn Creamery that will be open to everyone.

 

To learn more about the UConn Creamery, please visit: www.animalscience.uconn.edu or contact Dr. Dennis D’Amico at 860-486-0567.