A manufacturing facility in Cabot, Vt., that makes Cheddar and specialty cheeses plus yogurt and sour cream is the 2017 Dairy Foods Plant of the Year. The Cabot Creamery plant is owned by dairy cooperative Agri-Mark.

Dairy Foods nominated 14 food manufacturing facilities that make fluid milk, ice cream and novelties, cheese and cultured dairy foods. It invited dairy industry professionals to vote at dairyfoods.com to help select the Plant of the Year. In all, nearly 3,000 votes were cast over a five-week period.

In October 2015, Dairy Foods toured the Cabot facility, where Agri-Mark processes about 1 million pounds of members’ milk daily. “We’re tiny” compared to other cheesemakers, Regional Plant Manager Marcel G. Gravel told the magazine.

The plant has four 44,000-pound horizontal cheese vats. They were installed in 2001 and replaced open cookers. New equipment has made the cheesemaker more efficient.

While automation has increased yield, cheesemaking still requires human intervention.  Art and science are required. While equipment is the “science” in cheesemaking, knowing when to cut the curd is the “art.”

“It’s pretty much all automated except for when to cut the cheese to get the biggest bang for your buck,” Gravel said. “A cheese maker still checks it with his finger even though the machines say it’s ready. And we’ve experimented with automatic cutters and stuff. They’re not fool-proof.”

Up the hill from the processing plant is the cut-and-wrap facility where cheese from all of Cabot’s plants are packaged on nine lines. Employees break down 40- to 700-pound blocks of cheese and put them onto conveyors where they are converted into various formats, from 6-ounce bars to 10-pound loaves. Certain one- and two-pound blocks are dipped into wax baths; first clear wax, then black wax. These are popular items given as holiday gifts.

See "Cabot Creamery is looking sharp: inside the dairy plant." The plant will also be featured in the August 2017 print and digital editions of Dairy Foods.

Read more about Agri-Mark and Cabot Creamery