When it was first constructed in 1951, Babcock Hall — UW’s beloved producer of ice cream, cheese, and other famous dairy goods — was a welcome improvement. Its 60-year-old predecessor, Hiram Smith Hall, was putting serious constraints on the faculty and students working there. And sometimes, as the saying goes, history repeats itself. Once again, Babcock Hall is getting a major (and much-needed) upgrade.
Long considered a state-of-the-art facility, the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant satisfied the needs of the Department of Food Science and the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) for several decades. But their goals were becoming too great for the outdated equipment and limited space. This recent overhaul, now in its final stages, remodels the dairy plant and includes a brand-new, three-story addition for the CDR.
The UW Board of Regents initially approved the remodeling and expansion plan in 2012. Their endorsement included some state building dollars and an expectation for private fundraising to provide matching funds. The CDR worked with the dairy industry to quickly raise $16 million from donors. Following approval by the Wisconsin State Building Commission in 2013, budget and design considerations delayed the construction until July 2018, when contractors began working on the site. The project wraps up this spring.
Classic Babcock Products Made Even Better
Thanks to the dairy plant, Babcock ice cream has become a campus staple and a popular treat statewide. One core function of the plant is to provide this signature frozen dessert and other dairy products, such as its award-winning cheeses, to the adjacent Babcock Dairy Store. Babcock Hall and its manufacturing plant have also served as vital spaces for the university’s dairy-related research and training. With the completion of construction, all of these functions stand to be greatly improved.
“It has been a long process renovating the dairy plant,” says plant manager Casey Whyte, “and I am really excited for how it has turned out.”
One of the most highly anticipated features, according to Whyte, is the brand-new freezer space. The size of a modest banquet room, this single unit is a significant upgrade from the old facility’s three smaller freezers. The large space, which will hold rows upon rows of Babcock ice cream stacked in an orderly fashion, brings many benefits.
“It may not seem as exciting as a new piece of equipment,” says Whyte, “but it provides a lot of flexibility in how we operate on a day-to-day basis.” With a better freezer system, the dairy plant can be more efficient with its ice cream making. Instead of having to prepare frequent, smaller batches to refill the freezers, larger batches can be made, allowing employees more time to develop products, including new ice cream flavors.
Ice cream may be Babcock’s most well-known product, but you can’t make ice cream without milk. Another essential aspect to the Babcock renovation includes a modernized raw milk receiving bay, outfitted with new pumps, pipes, and holding tanks. From there, the milk can undergo different processes to create a wide variety of products.
The dairy plant project also brings the latest equipment for milk processing, ice cream churning, milk bottling, and cheese making. “This new facility will allow for Babcock Dairy to meet new food safety standards and produce the high-quality dairy products that the campus community has come to know and love,” says Whyte. “With the renovation complete, Babcock will still be able to produce all these products, but in a more technologically driven way.”
⊕ Cover Story Sidebar: A Tasteful New Babcock Dairy Logo
To mark a new era of dairy production on campus, Babcock Dairy operations is releasing a new logo for its products.
More Dairy Research, More Dairy Products
On the west side of Babcock Hall stands the new three-story addition, now home to the CDR. Since its founding in 1986, the CDR has contributed its expertise to the dairy industry through research, product manufacturing, support of entrepreneurs, and more than 20 short courses for cheesemakers and other dairy professionals each year.
The CDR staff help producers refine and improve traditional dairy products, such as cheese and butter, but they often lend a hand with more out-of-the-box ideas. For example, GoodSport, an innovative sports drink based on ultrafiltered milk, was formulated with help from the CDR (see A Dairy Venture into the World of Sports Drinks, Grow, Fall 2021). And the center’s new facilities are equipped to handle ever-growing industry demands.
Among the areas of growth in the Wisconsin dairy industry are specialty and artisan cheeses, which require different processing and aging methods than your average cheddar or brick. In addition to its new cheese processing equipment, including raw milk silos, a pasteurizer, a separator, cheese vats, and cheese pressers, the CDR has just the thing for specialty cheeses — cheese caves. Also called ripening rooms, these caves are where dairy magic happens.
Each of the CDR’s 10 ripening rooms has its own set of environmental controls that create specific conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and air flow, for aging cheese. Depending on what conditions are set, the CDR staff can make any type of cheese they desire.
“My hope for the next 10 or 20 years is that we are doubling the amount of specialty cheese made here in Wisconsin,” says John Lucey, food science professor and CDR director. “We have the best cheesemakers here and top-quality milk — we just need to keep working on innovation and looking at new products.”
The cheese making happens on the CDR’s main floor, but the specialty dairy products can be found upstairs. This floor is equipped for further processing of milk, such as filtration, concentration, and evaporation. Up here, the CDR can work on anything from cream cheese to Greek yogurt and other fermented dairy. With a new, two-story, three-stage dryer, the center can produce dry products such as whey and milk powder. An aseptic line, a unique collection of equipment and packaging is used to develop shelf-stable beverages, further expanding the CDR’s research capabilities and, thus, who it can serve.
“One thing that’s amazing to me is the range of products we can now make,” says Lucey. “Really, almost anything we want to make, we can make here now. We have the space and the flexibility to be able to do that.”
It’s not just CDR staff that can use the plethora of new equipment — on almost any given day, industry professionals can be seen conducting trials and attending short courses. On the first floor of the CDR addition, short course participants shift between the Sargento Training Center auditorium for lectures and the Hilmar Cheese Dairy Applications Lab for hands-on learning and tasting. The auditorium, lab, and cheese making areas are equipped with a camera system to accommodate virtual distance learning and to showcase real-time activities to participants in the auditorium.
Learn more about the Babcock Hall renovation and the Center for Dairy Research addition, including an open house to be held at the CDR on April 14.
To get a greater sense of the grand scope and enhanced capabilities of the new, world-class Babcock facility, visit the Babcock Hall project web page.
This article was posted in Cover Story, Economic and Community Development, Features, Food Systems and tagged Babcock Dairy, Babcock Dairy Plant, Babcock Dairy Store, Babcock Hall, Babcock ice cream, Casey Whyte, Center for Dairy Research, Dairy, Food science, John Lucey.