September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Farm families pool resources to form Hilmar Cheese Company

By By Krista M. Sheehan- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HILMAR, Calif. - What started as an idea written on a napkin in a local coffee shop is now a company that produces a large amount of cheese.
Hilmar Cheese Company, a privately held company, produces about 20 percent of the natural American cheese market in the United States. The company has one location in Hilmar, Calif., and a second in Dalhart, Texas. A group of Minnesota producers visited the California plant on Feb. 17.
In 1984, 12 Jersey farm families pooled their resources to invest in a cheese plant in Hilmar, Calif.
"They entered the market at a time when California was a net importer of cheese. They had an advantage," said Denise Skidmore, director of education and public relations.
Many of the families risked losing their farms and houses, including one of the families that mortgaged their family's original farmstead from the 1800s.
"They dropped everything they had," Skidmore said about the founders of the company.
In its first year of production, the company received milk from 15 local dairy farms and made three vats of cheese. Their plant consisted of one milk silo and a small building.
However, the company quickly took off, growing 20 percent annually for the first 20 years. In 1998, the company added a visitor center, which includes an area for education and a retail store. In 2007, Hilmar Cheese Company added a second plant location in Dalhart, Texas.
Today, Hilmar Cheese Company in California receives milk from 230 dairies. The farmers are paid two premiums. The first is a milk quality premium based on low somatic cell count. The second is a market basket premium, which is based on the components in each farmers' milk. Farmers are paid an additional bonus based on how well their milk would do in the markets Hilmar Cheese Company participates in - whey protein, lactose and cheese.
The dairies selling milk to Hilmar Cheese Company are contracted on an annual basis, bringing in 12 million pounds of milk every day. All but one of the farms are within a two-hour drive from the Hilmar plant, which moves 220 trucks through each day. About 30 percent of the milk comes from Jerseys while 70 percent is from Holsteins.
The milk that comes in is turned into 1.4 million pounds of wholesale cheese packaged into 640 or 40 pound blocks. This is about 20 percent of the natural American cheese market in the United States.
From the curds, the company processes the whey into whey protein and lactose. About 95 percent of the lactose is shipped to Asian countries while 40 percent of whey protein is shipped overseas. About 24 different products come out of the Hilmar plant.
The pure water, also called "milk water," left over after making the cheese and removing the whey protein and lactose is used to wash down the facility.
"We recycle so much water from the cheese making process we don't draw much from the ground," Skidmore said.
About 70 percent of water is recycled at Hilmar Cheese Company.
"This represents the largest investment in water reclamation by any food processor in California," Skidmore said.
The facility includes a three-station receiving area, which is different from many plants in the Midwest. Hilmar has a separate area each for sampling the milk before it comes off the truck, unloading the milk and washing the truck.
In 2000, the company built a new receiving area, which could unload milk at a faster rate. Rather than a three-inch pipeline the company had before, a six-inch pipeline is used to unload the 22,000-pound tanker in six minutes.
On site, Hilmar Cheese Company has a chemistry lab, microbiology lab and a cheese lab where all cheese is sampled for quality assurance at seven days of age.
About 770 people, including one part-time chaplain, are employed by California's Hilmar Cheese Company. The second and third generations of the starting families are a part of the company along with CEO, John Jeter, who has been with the company since it's early stages and helped write the start up business plan. The company continues to follow a philosophy to constantly grow and learn new things.[[In-content Ad]]


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

No calendar events have been scheduled for today.