Dairy facility at OSU

Oregon State University students make cheese in this photo supplied by the university. The upcoming $20 million facility will provide opportunities for students, Oregon’s dairy industry and the broader community.

CORVALLIS — Oregon State University announced Tuesday it will build a new $20 million dairy processing facility using private investments, state bonds and university funding.

The new, 3,000-square-foot dairy plant — three times the size of OSU’s existing facilities — will be used as a research laboratory and hands-on classroom for students and faculty, an educational space for the community, an incubator for dairy startups, a space where creameries statewide can test new products and a retail shop selling products such as ice cream made on site.

“I’m thrilled. It’s truly a dream come true,” said Lisbeth Goddik, head of OSU’s Department of Food Science and Technology. “We’ve wanted to provide the very best educational opportunities for our students, and this will allow us to do that. I think it’ll also have a really broad impact on our industry, because it’ll make it faster and cheaper to develop new products.”

This year is devoted to planning and design. Construction will likely begin summer 2022 and take about a year.

The facility will be in OSU’s Withycombe Hall, which originally housed a dairy in 1952. Robin Frojen, OSU’s current creamery manager, said she’s excited to restore the building “back to its creamery glory.”

More than a dozen outside groups invested in the renovation. The three lead outside donors were Tillamook County Creamery Association, Northwest Farm Credit Services and the Oregon Dairy Nutrition Council.

Alan Sams, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, said about $3 million comes from private donations, $3 million from state bonds and the remainder from university funds. Additional fundraising is underway.

Goddik, the department head, said industry groups donated for a few reasons: to invest in the next generation of the dairy industry, to support research and to have a facility they could access for testing and product development.

Goddik said small creameries often lack the equipment needed for product testing, while large creameries usually have equipment that’s too big for batch tests — so the scale of OSU’s new facility will be ideal to serve both groups.

OSU’s existing facility is only set up for artisanal cheesemaking — a brand called Beaver Classic. In the new facility, students will be able to produce more cheese varieties, yogurt, ice cream and other products.

Frojen, the creamery manager, said she looks forward to making blue cheese with her students, which isn’t possible in the current facility.

“We’ll be able to expand into other products,” said Sams, the dean. “(The plant) will also allow us to teach more technologically advanced and industry-relevant things to the students to keep pace with the industry so they’re ready to step into jobs when they graduate.”

Sams predicted 100 to 150 students annually, mostly in the Department of Food Science and Technology, will work directly in the plant. Hundreds more will be connected to the Beaver Classic brand, including students studying engineering, agribusiness and animal and rangeland science.

Professors say they’re also excited about research opportunities, including new space to study terroir, sustainability and how feed impacts cheese flavor.

Project leaders say they’re hopeful the plant will be a welcoming public space, with big glass windows so visitors can watch the cheesemaking process, more opportunity for school field trips and FFA members and a mobile food stand.

“I’ve got the coolest job on campus. I’ll say that till the cows come home,” said Rojen, the creamery manager. “And it’s about to get even better.”

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