Ashraf Hassan, Associate professor of Dairy Science at South Dakota State University was invited to participate in a Farmer to Farmer program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Hassan was asked to help a small dairy factory in the Republic of Georgia manufacture Mozzarella cheese locally and sustain its business.

"Dr. Hassan was invited for this international assignment because of his recognized expertise in dairy processing. He has made a substantial impact on the cheese industry in Georgia and his experience will be of great value to Dairy Science students at SDSU as well," said Vikram Mistry, Dairy Science Professor and Head.

The USAID was formed in 1961 to provide social and economic development aid to developing countries, and starting in the 1990s, the emphasis has been to provide assistance to newly independent countries and those shifting to a democracy. The objective of the Farmer to Farmer program is to improve the quality of life of people in Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Farmer to Farmer programs in East Africa, Southern Africa and Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia are implemented by CNFA (formerly Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs). This organization's mission is to stimulate economic growth and improve rural livelihoods in the developing world by empowering the private sector.

The dairy plant that Hassan assisted was built a few years ago in the Tsalka district with the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The plant manufactures a local Georgian cheese which is similar to Mozzarella and is made from raw milk. Whey cheese is also manufactured from the whey obtained during the manufacture of cheese.

"One challenge facing this plant and the dairy farmers in the region has been the competition in the Georgian cheese market and the excess of raw milk available during summer months, which significantly dropped milk and cheese prices," Hassan said.

The goal of the CNFA project was to give competitive advantage to this plant by increasing the scope of its products, reduce its cost of production by improving operation efficiency, and create opportunities for the excess milk during summer months.

"My first step was to enhance quality, consistency and safety of the Georgian cheese and improve process efficiency," Hassan said.

Because this domestic cheese is made from raw milk, the cheese making time could take up to 48 hours. This decreased the capacity of the plant and profit. Hassan modified the cheese making process in a way that did not affect its artisanal nature, yet significantly shortened the processing time. He also taught the plant production team how to make Mozzarella cheese from pasteurized milk using various methods.

Effects of manufacturing methods on taste and stretchability were also demonstrated. Cheese braids are very popular in the Republic of Georgia but this plant was not able to produce them. Cheese braids were smoked and sold in the local market and surrounding towns. With the new methods Hassan introduced, it was possible to braid cheese.

Hassan also provided training on best manufacturing practices and food safety. Cleaning and sanitation and personnel hygiene were discussed, and critical control points were identified. Hassan was assisted by a translator.

The introduction of new products will increase milk demand and allow farmers to be paid a reasonable price for their milk. The application of starter cultures in making cheese will assure high product quality, safety, and consistency, and shorten cheese making time. This will increase the capacity of the plant without additional investment.

"The major achievement of the visit was the creation of a platform, and the right mind set which will lead to widespread changes in the dairy industry in the region and help dairy processors and farmers sustain their businesses," Hassan said.

Hassan's visit also expanded South Dakota State University international visibility as a global citizen and reinforced its mission to provide service for the welfare of not only the U.S. but also the whole world. Hassan teaches various Dairy Manufacturing courses and conducts research at SDSU.

To learn more about dairy manufacturing and the Dairy Science department.