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The time has come to celebrate the completion of a major construction project for UW–Madison’s Babcock Hall, the heart of the university’s dairy product research and training. The facility updates involved the renovation of the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, known for its popular Babcock ice cream and award-winning cheeses, as well as a new, three-story addition for the Center for Dairy Research (CDR), a world-class resource for dairy processors and entrepreneurs.
The celebration involves a public open house 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. on Friday, Apr. 14 at Babcock Hall, located at 1605 Linden Drive. Everyone is welcome to this free event, which features an interactive self-guided tour highlighting the building’s new state-of-the-art spaces and the work that takes place in the facilities – plus an array of delicious samples. For more information, visit babcockhall.cals.wisc.edu.
The recently completed construction project represents the first major upgrade to the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant since it was built in 1951. The plant renovation modernized the facility, adding the latest equipment for milk processing, ice cream churning, milk bottling and cheese making. The plant also has new freezer space that will allow staff to make larger batches of ice cream, freeing up time for employees to develop new products – including new ice cream flavors.
“We have a great space now to make the Babcock products that people have come to know and love,” says Scott Rankin, chair and professor in the Department of Food Science. “Just as important, the new facilities represent a huge step forward in the plant’s ability to serve as a laboratory and learning space for our students and university researchers, as well as industry personnel who come for professional training in the plant.”
For the Center for Dairy Research, the construction project provided the center with the space and equipment it needs to provide – and expand – its research and outreach missions. Each year, the CDR – which has been housed in Babcock Hall since it was founded in 1986 – works with more than 120 dairy companies and organizations to help them develop new products, troubleshoot production problems and train dairy professionals. CDR staff also work with UW graduate students on research projects designed to drive innovations in dairy products and processing.
With the CDR addition, the center now has its own food-grade, licensed pilot facility – with state-of-the-art research, instruction and small-scale manufacturing spaces – as well as a broader array of dairy food processing equipment. One exciting addition is the new suite of 10 ripening rooms for specialty cheeses (commonly called “cheese caves”), each with its own set of environmental controls that create specific ripening conditions, such as temperature, humidity and air flow, for aging all kinds of cheeses.
The center also has new equipment for the filtration, concentration, fermentation, separation and drying of milk, enabling CDR staff to work on specialty dairy products from cream cheese to Greek yogurt to whey powder. There’s also a new aseptic line, which is used to produce shelf-stable, dairy-based beverages, further expanding the CDR’s research capabilities and possible industry partners.
“Having a world-class facility like this enables us to attract the best people in dairy research – including faculty, staff and students – to Wisconsin, where we are in an ideal location to serve the state’s dairy processing industry,” says John Lucey, CDR director and professor of food science. “But we didn’t do it alone. Huge credit goes to the donors to the project, who helped fund the project and encouraged state officials to support it. Wisconsin’s dairy industry has provided long-term support to CDR, and now we have this exciting new facility that will generate innovations to add more value to our state’s high-quality milk.”
The total cost of the Babcock Hall renovation and expansion project was $72.9M. Project funding came from private donors, the State of Wisconsin and UW–Madison. Nearly 200 donors—primarily from the state’s cheese industry—fundraised over $18M to support the project.
“I’m seeing real pride and excitement in the Wisconsin dairy community over the opening and operation of the new Center for Dairy Research. Bringing this building project across the finish line was a challenge and a key career goal for a lot of people in the dairy industry,” says John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. “Other states have great dairy traditions, but I think everyone in the nation would agree: with this addition to Wisconsin’s dairy capabilities and brain trust, America’s Dairyland remains the center of gravity in the U.S. dairy industry.”
Wisconsin’s dairy sector generates $45.6 billion and 157,100 jobs in the state. Dairy processing accounts for roughly two-thirds of this contribution. With around 120 cheese plants, Wisconsin produces more than 3.4 billion pounds of cheese annually, accounting for around 25% of the national total, in more than 600 types, styles and varieties – nearly double the number of any other state.