When the Washington State University creamery makes cheese, only 10 percent of the milk purchased from WSU's Knott Dairy winds up in the final product. That will change soon when ground is broken on a new expansion.
Until now, 15,000 pounds of milk has resulted in 1,500 pounds of cheese; the remaining liquid, called whey, is a waste product.
A new whey processing facility, which will be attached to the creamery and Ferdinand's Ice Cream Shoppe, will filter out organic material from the whey. The resulting water will be clean enough to simply flow down the drain.
"For the past several years, we've pumped our whey into tanker trucks and hauled it out to the dairy farm," said John Haugen, creamery manager. "Now we'll be able to separate all the proteins and other components, just like commercial cheese factories."
That's useful because, in addition to selling Cougar Gold and other cheeses, the creamery is a teaching facility. It provides paid training for students who want to work in the dairy industry. Having hands-on experience in whey processing will give WSU students an advantage in an industry that's always looking for uses for leftover whey, Haugen said.
The new facility will include a reverse osmosis system and other membrane filtration equipment, along with training space and administrative offices. It will house a receiving bay large enough to provide important safety and security measures for the two tanker trucks operated by the creamery.
Building construction will cost up to $4 million, not including equipment. The creamery is funding the construction, which is expected to take nine months to complete.
Haugen is planning for a grand opening in October or November.