Cheesemaking class to culminate in tasting event

Three people wearing protective gear move cheese curds around in a plastic tub as the cheese soaks in wine. They are inside a pilot plant.
Cheyanne Ohlhauser, senior in food science, left, and Maeve Vandiver, junior in mechanical engineering, center, rotate cheese curds soaking in wine under the guidance of Stephanie Clark, professor of food science and human nutrition. The campus community will have an opportunity to taste the student-made cheese during a showcase event Dec. 8, in the Food Sciences Building.

By Whitney Baxter

The smell of cheese and wine fills the air in the corner of the pilot plant inside the Food Sciences Building. Students cut hunks of cheddar cheese into thumb-sized pieces (cheese curds) before placing them in a large, clear plastic tub to soak in wine. The curds will be pressed in towers, sliced into wheels, then vacuum-sealed in bags. The goal is that after several weeks of aging, the wine-soaked cheese will be a delectable treat.

This all-day cheesemaking process is just one of the many hands-on activities in this semester’s FSHN 376X: Science and Practice of Cheesemaking class, led by Stephanie Clark, professor of food science and human nutrition. Clark’s participation in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Innovation and Entrepreneurship Faculty Fellows program made the experimental class possible.

One student slices cheddar cheese inside a food-grade tub in preparation to turn it into cheese curds. Other students are watching.The class teaches students about milk chemistry and microbiology, sanitation and cheesemaking.

Earlier in the semester, the students also learned about the wine- and beer-making processes and what cheeses pair well with each beverage. These sessions were led by Aude Watrelot, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, and Robert Brown, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering, who leads the beer-making class.

“Trying the different cheeses, pairing them with wines and beers and learning how they enhance each other has been fun,” said Ashlynn Brock, senior in agricultural communication.

Based on what they learned, the students made pitches for what type of wine or beer they wanted to incorporate into the cheese they would make. The only stipulation Clark gave them was the beverage of choice must come from an Iowa winery or brewery.

One group selected Behind the Shed Red from Jasper Winery in Des Moines and the other chose Blackberry wine from Ackerman Winery in Amana.

Maeve Vandiver, junior in mechanical engineering, said their group added ground peppercorn to the cheese in the hopes its flavor would evoke feelings of winter and holiday meals of pork chops with berry sauce. They have appreciated the hands-on cheesemaking experience in the class. 

“There are so many things about cheese that I didn't understand or know about that now I understand,” Vandiver said.

That increased knowledge of cheesemaking is just one learning objective for the class. Others include improving teamwork and communication skills.

“I hope the students walk away from this class being willing to explore things and take innovation to the next level,” Clark said.

Taste the cheese yourself

The students will host a showcase event on Dec. 8, from noon to 2 p.m. in 2379 Food Sciences Building, during which attendees can taste the two cheeses. Students will also present posters explaining the steps they took to arrive at their final products.

For Evelyn Greenbury, senior in culinary food science, the class has extended her dairy experience. Last summer, she toured creameries and wineries in Iowa and California as part of the Study USA trip to California. This semester, she is a student employee at the ISU Creamery.

“It’s cool to see what I’m learning in class transfer to what I’m working on at the Creamery,” Greenbury said.

Did you know?

For each group:

  • It took 200 pounds of milk to make 20 pounds of cheese
  • Each cheese was soaked in four bottles of wine