Culinary students at INACAP in Chile kicked off their USA Cheese Specialist certification education with the help of U.S. dairy farmers like Alex Peterson.

From the classic (macaroni and cheese) to the trendy (“pilk”), there are hundreds of different ways consumers can enjoy dairy products. As producers, marketers, and advocates of milk and its products, the dairy industry must be at the forefront of new and innovative dairy dishes that help consumers continue to enjoy milk’s nutrients in a delicious way.

This is especially true in the overseas markets that have become an increasingly important part of the U.S. dairy portfolio, absorbing about 16% of all milk solids produced by U.S. dairy farms. And there’s no one better to come up with creative new recipes that fit a culture’s cuisine than chefs.

Working with chefs in training has been a key part of the U.S. Dairy Export Council’s (USDEC) relationship-building work in a number of countries, including South Korea, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and Taiwan. Through their culinary education, these students learn about the quality of U.S. cheese and the attributes of different varieties. With that knowledge, they will be equipped to incorporate U.S. dairy into their future menus as they become certified USA Cheese Specialists.

The newest locale to offer this certification is the South American coastal country of Chile. The fastest-growing economy on the continent and with growing demand for dairy despite stable to slowed domestic production, Chile represents an emerging opportunity for American dairy.

An interactive experience

Last summer, two culinary instructors from Chile’s largest technical education center joined USDEC’s Global Instructor Conference to learn about U.S. cheese, visit production sites, and see how different varieties can be used in recipes. About 40 students signed up to begin taking classes this fall, and in September, six U.S. dairy farmers and USDEC staff were on hand to help kick off their training.

“There is a huge variety of cheeses in the U.S. that we cannot imagine,” said one of the instructors who visited the U.S. to the students gathered before USDEC’s Amy Foor led them through a cheese tasting.

To make the tasting more interactive, students were organized into teams to answer trivia questions about each variety as they tasted it. Each team was “captained” by one of the U.S. dairy farmers and bore the name of their home state. The farmers also shared with the students some key points about their farms, including how they care for their cows and the environment.

Then, these future chefs enjoyed samples of cheeses from Mascarpone to Pepper Jack. With each one, Foor explained how it was made, its main flavors, and how it may be used in the kitchen. U.S. dairy manufacturers were also there to describe how they make their products. “It’s important for you as future food professionals to understand this versatile product,” Foor shared. “We want to be a resource for you as you source your menus.”

The team that won the trivia contest, pictured above, went home with a USA Cheese Specialist goody bag of more cheese samples, and the other teams received a cheese knife. But these up-and-coming chefs left with more than just memorabilia — they are taking home memories and knowledge that will help them create interesting and desirable dishes as they move into their careers developing recipes and building menus that their communities can enjoy. Ultimately, they will be the ones sharing the value of U.S. cheese with Chilean consumers.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
January 2, 2023
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