Initiated in 1916, the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest has had a phenomenal record of growth and industry participation since its inception. Many of today’s dairy industry leaders started out as contest participants . . . and winners.

Initiated in 1916, the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest has had a phenomenal record of growth and industry participation since its inception. Many of today’s dairy industry leaders started out as contest participants . . . and winners. And, many of today’s participants will be tomorrow’s leaders.

Immediately after their sweep at the national contest, MTSU coaches and team members posed with their prizes. Pictured (left to right) on the top row are Coach Charlie White, team members Elizabeth Knight, Leah Blackwood and Brandon Kimbrell, and Coach Neil Bogart; on the bottom row are Justin Stefanski, first place contest winner for all products, and Coach Liz Troup, second place winner for all products in the graduate student competition.

During the past 91 years, only six times was the contest not held. The first time was in 1918 due to World War I. The other five times were in the period from 1942 to 1946, and this was due to World War II. Otherwise, nothing has stopped this annual event of dairy foods-evaluating experts from gathering and competing to determine the best taste buds of the year.

Three organizations-American Dairy Science Association (ADSA), Food Processing Suppliers Association (FPSA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-serve as contest sponsors. Dairy industry companies support the contest by donating and storing contest samples, as well as providing proctors, scorers and official judges. The contest is further supported on a local basis by numerous individual volunteers, as well as corporate sponsors.

This year marked the 85th year of competition, and what a year of competition it was. In fact, the number-one winner for all products was a university that never before competed. The team only started training for the competition a few months before hand. However, this determined group of very diverse undergraduates, with support from numerous local industry affiliations, put a small university from the middle of rural Tennessee in the spotlight.

That’s right, Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), a school few in the dairy industry ever heard of until now, walked away with a record number of top-awards after competing the first time ever in the national competition. “We had been thinking about running a dairy product evaluation course for some time, and this was the year it made it into the curriculum,” says Tim Redd, director of farm laboratories at MTSU, and one of the judging team’s coaches. “Twelve students signed up for the 13-week class; and it was only at about week eight when the national competition took place.”

Class instructors, who became the team’s coaches, included consultants from Randolph Associates Inc., Birmingham, Ala. “The team’s commitment was amazing,” says Neil Bogart, one of the coaches. “This was a group of students that made many personal sacrifices to put in long hours of training.”

Charlie White, professor emeritus at Mississippi State, and now a consultant with Randolph Associates and one of the MTSU team’s coaches, adds, “I have been involved with this contest for many years, and I had my doubts about being about to train these students in such a short time. But they did it.”

The three members of the undergraduate team were Justin Stefanski, who took first place for all products, Leah Blackwood, second place all products, and Elizabeth Knight, fifth place all products. Alternate team member Brandon Kimbrell gets to keep training for another year and compete in the 2007 contest.

The team’s third coach, Liz Troup, is MTSU’s milk processing manager. She competed in the graduate student contest and ranked second place for all products. “The sensory evaluation learned in this new course is the formal training I needed to better do my job in the milk processing plant,” Troup says. “It also provides the necessary training for the people I hire. It is invaluable to anyone in the dairy business.”

This is something that many in today’s dairy industry know from experience, and it’s why it was fairly easy to get local dairy processors to sponsor the team.

“When we were asked to be sponsors, we did not hesitate,” says Tim White, v.p. of milk sales for Purity Dairies Inc., Nashville, Tenn., a Dean Foods company. “It is important that industry support bright students to train them to be our future leaders.”

In early December, members of the MTSU team celebrated their victory with university and industry sponsors. Pictured (left to right) on the top row are John Sanford and Buddy Woodson, both with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Food and Dairy Division; Tim White, v.p. of milk sales for Purity Dairies Inc.; Bill McCarthy, plant mgr., and Karen Shook, q.a. mgr., both with Heritage Farms Dairy; and MTSU members: University President Sidney McPhee; Rhonda Hoffman, interim chair, School of Agribusiness/Agriscience; Tim Redd, director of farm laboratories; and Dean Thomas Cheatham of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences. The bottom row begins with Liz Troup, MTSU milk processing mgr., followed by undergraduate team members Brandon Kimbrell, Elizabeth Knight and Leah Blackwood. The row ends with Coach Charles White and Henry Randolph, MTSU team sponsors and organizers.

Bill McCarthy, plant manager at Heritage Farms Dairy, Murfreesboro, Tenn., a division of Kroger Ltd., adds, “I have always believed in the evaluation contest, and am committed to growing the local talent. I trusted the coaches when they said these students were good. Wow, I had no idea they were this outstanding.”

Heritage Farms is very near the university and often uses it as a resource. “We recruit many students from MTSU, so supporting the contest is very beneficial to the company,” adds Karen Shook, quality assurance manager.

Other Tennessee-based dairies to support the MTSU team include Country Delite Farms, Mayfield Dairy Farms, PET/Land-O-Sun and Turner/Forest Hill.

“The university is very proud of the students and thankful to the coaches and industry,” concludes Thomas Cheatham, dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences. “I keep reminding myself that this was the first time the university offered this class, and wow, what a team it produced!”

For more information on the contest visitfpsa.orgfor more information.