Submitted by the Idaho Milk Processors Association

Idaho might be best known for the "famous potatoes" its license plates have proclaimed since 1948, but milk is the real agricultural crown jewel here with dairy foods comprising nearly one-third of farming's contribution to the Gem State economy. Tied with New York as the third leading milk producing state in the country, Idaho is also a leader in dairy product innovation.

Slated for Aug. 11-12 in Sun Valley, the Idaho Milk Processors Association Conference is a prime example. Celebrating its 90th year, the annual gathering has grown into an important industry event, attracting luminaries like keynote speaker Tom Suber, president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and Greg "Dr. Dairy" Miller, the National Dairy Council's chief science officer.

The meeting also includes a panel discussion among dairy experts dubbed "The Future of Food" that addresses balancing consumer trends and food security, as well as the ninth annual IMPA Dairy Product Development Competition and the 21st annual Idaho Milk Processors Contest.

Supported in part by the United Dairymen of Idaho and judged by leading dairy farmers and processors, the IMPA Product Development Competition challenges universities with strong nutrition and food science programs to create the most promising new food product containing dairy ingredients. Schools participating this year include Brigham Young University, Cornell University, Utah State University, and a collaborative effort by University of Idaho and Washington State University.

Innovative foods using dairy ingredients

Last year's product development competition yielded innovative ideas for future dairy foods that are full of promise:

* Eureka! meat marinade, Utah State's grand-prize-winning entry, incorporates Greek yogurt whey -- an inexpensive, underutilized dairy product -- as its main ingredient. The whey's natural acidity makes the unique concept an excellent, microbially stable meat tenderizer.
Available in Traditional Savory and Spicy Chipotle Pepper flavors, the marinade is ideal for in-home and outdoor cooking via a variety of methods, including baking, grilling, slow cooking, and pan-frying.

* BYU's fresh, healthful, dairy-based, high-protein yogurt bar called Pro-Yo earned first prize. Its sweet, crunchy base made from whey protein crisps instead of traditional grains gets topped by a tart, creamy, dense filling made from fresh yogurt, whey protein, and milk mineral complex flavored with strawberry, acai superfruit, or blueberry cheesecake. The team enrobed these two layers in a rich, yogurt confectionery coating to produce a healthy, convenient meal or snack replacement that's delicious, portable, and high in protein and calcium.

* South Dakota State University earned second prize with Nutri-Bitzz
-- crispy, gluten-free, high-protein, dairy-based crackers available in such flavors as Italian Herb & Cheese, Chipotle, and Spicy Jalapeno. Designed as a healthy substitute for traditional crackers, Nutri-Bitzz boast 125 percent more protein than typical crackers and incorporate cottage cheese as a primary ingredient to help offset decreasing consumption of the healthful food.

Artisan cheese contest

The Idaho Milk Processors Contest, on the other hand, rewards current innovation in cheese. Judges typically grade more than 100 entries in 18 different classes of cheese from processors in Idaho and five neighboring states that have land or dairy here or get some milk from Gem State producers. IMPA awards first-, second-, and third-place ribbons for each class, name the best overall entry Grand Champion, and select first and second runners up.

IMPA is adding an artisan class this year, as well as allowing members and associate members from Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming to enter the artisan and farmstead classes without having ties to Idaho specifically.

The Idaho Milk Processors Contest not only rewards innovators, it attracts them as sponsors. One such patron is Chr. Hansen, a global bioscience company headquartered in Denmark that develops natural ingredient solutions for the food, nutritional, pharmaceutical, and agricultural industries. Its products include cultures for cheese, yogurt, wine and meat; enzymes for cheese production; colors for food and beverages; probiotics and phytonutrients for human health; and microbial and food safety products for agriculture. All the company's solutions are based on strong research and development competencies and significant technology investments.

Innovations from Chobani, Litehouse, Glanbia, Davisco

Meanwhile, innovative Idaho processors are creating new products and new product categories -- not just new flavors -- in response to evolving consumer preferences and customer demands. Recent firsts by Gem State dairy processors include:

* Sandpoint-based Litehouse Foods introduced the world's first real, finely crumbled, shakable soft cheese, Simple Seasons, in April. Part of its Simply Artisan Reserve brand, Simple Seasons is available in blue cheese and feta flavors and comes in convenient, no-waste, shakable glass jars that allow cheese lovers to enjoy just the right amount of soft, delicious crumples on everything from burgers to salads and soups.

* The refrigerated salad dressing category leader, Litehouse also unveiled the world's first pourable Greek yogurt-based dressing in February as an expansion its highly successful OPA by Litehouse(tm) Greek yogurt dressing line. OPA by Litehouse. Providing people even more ways to lighten up meals with delicious, lower-calorie, higher-protein options, the new dressings come in convenient, pourable glass bottles and are available in tzatziki ranch, avocado cilantro, strawberry poppy seed, roasted garlic, and curry flavors.

* Cheese is already a powerful way to deliver essential nutrients, so Glanbia Nutritionals launched three Health & Wellness cheeses in spring 2015 to deliver even more: PRO-10 protein cheese, Delightful Vitamin D cheese, and Fuel Good cheese. A natural source of superior quality protein, cheese provides all the essential amino acids your body needs to build and maintain muscles, and Glanbia's Pro-10 has 10 percent more protein than regular cheddar for an extra boost of goodness. Two-thirds of Americans don't get enough Vitamin D yet most cheeses aren't fortified with it, so Glanbia's Delightful cheddar provides 20 percent daily value per serving plus 20 percent of the RDA for calcium. Meanwhile, Fuel Good adds the holistic goodness of green tea and ginseng with delicious Jack cheese to recharge both your mind and your body.

* Glanbia also introduced one of the hottest cheeses on the market -- and a crowning achievement by its Cheese Innovation Center in Twin Falls, Idaho -- in 2013. Dubbed Ghost Pepper Jack, the specialty cheese fuses jalapeno, habanero, and Bhut Jolokia peppers with a Monterey Jack base. Glanbia will release its milder Hatch Pepper Jack in the last half of 2016.

* Chobani, which operates the world's largest yogurt plant in Twin Falls, expanded beyond the yogurt aisle in March with Chobani Meze(tm) dips and Drink Chobani(tm) yogurt beverages. Building on the Mediterranean tradition of shared spreads, Meze dips blend real veggies, herbs, and spices with creamy Greek yogurt, yielding 80 percent less fat and 65 percent fewer calories than leading hummus products. They're ideal for dipping vegetables, chips or pretzels and available in roasted red pepper, three-pepper salsa, chili lime, and smoked onion Parmesan flavors. Meanwhile, the all-natural, yogurt-based Drink Chobani is made with real fruit and probiotics, providing people with a rejuvenating, refreshing, and highly portable source of protein in such flavors as mixed berry, strawberry banana, apple cucumber spinach, and mango.

* Davisco Foods, which operates the Jerome Cheese Co. in Jerome, Idaho, produces the purest isolated form of bovine alpha-lactalbumin commercially available worldwide. As the primary protein in human milk, alpha-lactalbumin is extremely important for infant nutrition, and Davisco increased its production tenfold over the last two years and now creates more than 1 million pounds annually.

* Davisco also makes two-thirds of the whey protein isolates sold worldwide and introduced several innovative whey protein ingredients in the last year that are ideal for protein fortification of snack foods and other nutritional products. The first is a protein-packed nighttime beverage prototype containing 20 grams of high-quality alpha-lactalbumin with 2 grams of leucine and 1 gram of tryptophan.
The second is a unique, savory trail-mix bar prototype made with whey protein, ginger, nuts, pumpkin seeds, and a Thai spice seasoning blend.

With IMPA slated to announce the results of the 2016 Dairy Product Development Competition at its awards banquet Aug. 12, you can expect to learn about more dairy innovations coming out of Idaho soon.

About the Idaho Milk Processors Association

IMPA is a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote the Idaho dairy industry, cooperate with all organizations that work to advance and develop it, hold annual conferences focusing on subjects relative to the processing of milk and milk products, and act in unison in matters affecting the welfare of all dairy interests. Visit for more details.

About United Dairymen of Idaho

The United Dairymen of Idaho protects and promotes the Idaho dairy industry and dairy farm families through outreach, nutrition counseling and partnerships with consumers, dairy processors, retail outlets, and farmers and their families. It is the parent organization of both the Idaho Dairy Council and the Idaho Dairymen's Association.

Visit for updates and additional information.