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Amid a display of cubed samples, tags identify the various specialty cheeses made at the Arla cooperative’s plant at Hollandtown.<br />

Amid a display of cubed samples, tags identify the various specialty cheeses made at the Arla cooperative’s plant at Hollandtown.
Photo By Ray Mueller

Arla's Hollandtown plant focuses on production of specialty cheeses

Nov. 15, 2012 | 0 comments

The Arla Foods cooperative plant in this community at rural Kaukauna in southwestern Brown County is a site where cheese has been made since 1897.

About 700,000 pounds of milk is trucked in every day for the production of Havarti, Gouda, Edam, Farmer's, and Muenster cheeses.

But the plant has the capacity of handling up to one million pounds of milk per day, according to plant manager Henrik Jessen, who has held that position here since 2010.

The plant has been upgraded with $26 million in new investment since Arla acquired it in January of 2006.

Long known as the White Clover Dairy with a strong emphasis on making specialty cheeses, the plant was established by a group of area farmers just over 115 years ago.

Except for a four-year period from 1976 to 1980, the plant was owned and operated by three generations of the Fassbender family.

Based in Europe, Arla is a farmer-owned dairy cooperative, which dates to the 1880s.

Most of its dairy farm owners are in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. Jessen, who is a native of Denmark, also has cheese production experience in Poland and Saudi Arabia.

The milk coming into the plant here is obtained from 65 area dairy farms, none of which are allowed to use recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), Jessen indicated to members of county dairy promotion groups.

These dairy promotion groups toured the plant as part of an annual update regional meeting sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

At the plant, which typically operates at least one shift on seven days per week, Jessen stated that the annual intake of milk from the 65 shippers is about 260 million pounds.

He said it is virtually impossible for the plant to obtain any extra milk on the open market, especially with the rBST-free stipulation.

Havarti and Gouda account for about 70 and 22 percent, respectively of the cheese made at the plant, Jessen told the visitors. He said 70 percent of the volume is sold with the cooperative's Arla and Defino labels.

The highly-automated plant, part of which covers a brick floor that was part of the original construction, turns out such final products as double-waxed seven-ounce Gouda rounds, waxed 10-pound wheels, and cheeses that are smoked for 24 hours.

All of the cheese is stored at a distribution center just across county highway D.

Among the product safety measures in place at the plant are a total clothing change required of all employees in order to avoid bringing any outside contaminant bacteria into the facility, Jessen pointed out.

Another sanitation measure is keeping a mass a foam between each of the many rooms at the plant.

A metal detector also checks all the cheese before it is packaged or put into storage.

Jessen also pointed out that the whey - nine pounds for every 10 pounds of milk that went into cheese-making vats holding up to 50,000 pounds of milk - is concentrated in three stages to remove much of the liquid.

In turn, that liquid is purified into water that has potable quality and that is used for cleaning at the plant.

As a whole, the Arla cooperative, which has a trademarked promotional theme of "Closer to Nature," has a goal - for the year 2020 compared to 2005 - of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent in its production and transportation operations.

A new fresh milk dairy plant being constructed near London, England was designed with the intent of being the world's first zero carbon processing site.

Other goals for Arla by 2020 are to obtain 50 percent of its energy consumption from sustainable sources, reducing food waste by 50 percent, and using only materials that are 100 percent recyclable for its packaging.

An additional goal for 2020 is to develop all new products only with natural ingredients and with no artificial colors, flavors, or perservatives.

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