Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) is completing the installation of 18 new cheese vats at its largest cheese plants located in Blair and JimFalls, Wis. The $7.5 million investment is projected to increase cheese production at both plants by 3.6 million pounds per year.

AMPI, New Ulm, Minn., ranks 19th on the Dairy 100, Dairy Foods' annual ranking of North America's largest dairy processors. It reported revenues of $1.7 billion in 2010, up from $1.4 billion in 2009. The dairy marketing cooperative has 3,000 member farms, which produce 6 billion pounds of milk. The dairy farms are located in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. AMPI owns 12 manufacturing plants and markets a full line of consumer-packaged dairy products, including the Cass-Clay brand.

AMPI states it is the first manufacturer in the United States to install the innovative vats, which redefine the benchmark for cheese-making production and quality. The new equipment features advances in technology and automation to produce cheese more efficiently, with improved texture and taste, according to a company press release.

A  vat installed at the Blair plant produced award-winning cheese for the 2011 World Dairy Expo Dairy Products Championship Contest. Judges awarded first place to AMPI’s Cheddar cheese.

“The noticeable boost in cheese yield and quality make this a smart investment for the cooperative,” AMPI President and CEO Ed Welch said. “Growing demand from our customers reaffirms AMPI’s commitment to be a premier cheese producer. These vats will enable us to produce more cheese from our members’ milk, increasing their returns.”