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New dairy plant manager has fresh ideas for curds, cream

Michelle Farner has joined UWRF as manager of the on-campus dairy plant. Submitted photo.

Michelle Farner, a seasoned cheesemaker with eight years experience at various facilities in the greater Eau Claire area, has joined UW-RF as manager of the dairy plant. She replaces Ranee May, who retired recently after nearly 30 years in that role.

Farner, a licensed cheesemaker, entered the cheese industry in 2002 as an intern with a small cheese company in Augusta. After college, she became the production manager for the creamery, making American style cheese using milk exclusively from local Amish farms. She has worked in the food industry for over 8 years in various capacities and locations, including operations management, quality assurance and production, all within an 85-mile radius of Eau Claire.

Farner said she's excited to bring her education in food systems and technology from UW-Stout and her previous experience to the university setting.

UWRF's unique pilot food plant supports commercial plants for dairy, meat, and fruit and vegetable processing. These plants allow students to gain hands-on experience in food production and processing. The dairy plant usually employs 7 students and supplies campus with a variety of fresh cheese, ice cream, and milk.

The plants are located on the first floor of the Food Science Addition, right under the many unsuspecting students who travel the second floor hallway daily.

"Many people don't even know where the plant is", said Farner, "I hope to change that."

Production in the dairy plant has slowed during this transition, but will be back in full operation this spring. Farner has new and ambitious ideas to bring attention to the quality of the plant's products. Her goal is "to build on the success of the past 30 years while bringing some new excitement." She hopes to create new flavors of jack, colby, and cheddar cheeses and constructing "snack packs" for students, which might include sausage sticks and the plant's famous fresh cheese curds.

Farner said she'll also try to offer fresh samples to students when available. "I'd love to be offering samples of cheese...when we make a block and cut it, I would like to be able to let people know and let them come in and try it," she said.

True to the university's dedication to sustainable community development principles, the dairy plant gets its milk from the UWRF Mann Valley Farm, located northwest of campus.

Farner also wants to expand the involvement in campus events, particularly the annual events and sales at the farm. She says with enthusiasm, "People will be able to go to the farm, buy their compost, and see what we're making."

"This is the chance of a lifetime," she said.