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New York Agriculture in the Classroom

Dairy Processing

About Dairy Processing

Milk is produced by female mammals and is a very versatile commodity. In the US, cow's milk is the predominant source of dairy. Straight from the cow, milk is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After the milk is collected, it is quickly cooled in large stainless-steel refrigerated storage tanks where it waits to be picked up by large, cooled tanker trucks. Every 24-48 hours, these trucks stop at the farm or at different farms to collect the stored milk.

If one farm is unable to fill a tanker, the driver will go to multiple farms until the tanker is full. Before the milk is collected, the driver takes samples of the milk. Once the tanker reaches the processing plant it is tested to ensure there are no pathogens or medications in the milk. If any pathogens or medications are found the entire tank is dumped. If the tanker went to multiple dairies, the driver's samples are tested to identify which farm the contaminated milk came from.

Once reaching the processor, milk is pasteurized or quickly heated to 162 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any harmful food pathogens. Milk is also tested many times along its processing journey to ensure a safe food product.

At the processing plant, the milk can be broken down to different components such as whey and curd or made into shelf stable products like powdered or evaporated milk. These products are combined with varying healthy bacteria cultures, organic acids, and natural thickeners to make a finished product. Yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, and other processed dairy products go through very similar steps in their manufacturing. Dairy processors need to only alter one or two ingredients or procedures to change what dairy product is produced.

Although cow's milk is the predominant milk used in dairy processing in the US, dairy can also be collected from other livestock such as bison, goats, sheep, yaks, and camels. Milk from these animals will have slightly different attributes and properties than that of cow's milk. Artisan dairy processers will often utilize these differences for their artisan products as products made from each type of animal will be unique in flavor and texture and are sought after from individuals in the culinary world or from distinct cultural backgrounds.

Trip to the Paddock

Take a virtual field trip to Hidden Pasture Goat Dairy, a real NY Goat farm, to learn how NY goat dairy is produced, how a goat herd is cared for, and how NY goat dairy is used to create products which are sold across the Empire State.

Fun Facts

  • Cream cheese was invented by a New York State farmer in 1873 in Philadelphia, NY. Little did the inventor William Lawrence know, New York State would be the top producer of cream cheese in the United States.
  • New York is one of the top producers of sour cream and cottage cheese in the nation.

Dig Deeper

Use the following links to learn more about dairy processing, the dairy processing industry, and dairy processing research.

Lessons and Resources

Want to use standards-based dairy processing focused lessons in your classroom, find more resources to take learning with dairy processing further, or locate texts that support core content teaching featuring dairy processing, these can all be found at our AITC Lesson Matrix.