For over 75 years, Edam Cheese has been a Mississippi State University symbol just as iconic as the cowbell. The signature red “cannonball” of cheese had humble beginnings at MSU, but since then the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES) has developed an outlet for a variety of dairy and produce.
According to msucheese.com, the MAFES store’s website, cheese was first made at MSU by F. H. Herzer, professor and head of the Dairy Science Department from 1947-1958, in 1938.
At its conception, the program was only able to produce a couple hundred balls of cheese per year, but production capabilities skyrocketed once the dairy plant moved to its current home in the Herzer Dairy Science Facility in 1970. Now, over 30,000 cannon balls are produced every year.
Though MSU sells plenty of cheese, msucheese.com notes the plant is primarily a venue for students to learn and conduct research.
According to the website, “This facility is equipped with some of the most modern equipment available and provides an excellent teaching and research laboratory for the students studying dairy foods at Mississippi State University. The cheese operation is a by-product of the teaching and research programs.”
Today, the dairy plant is under the command of plant manager David Hall.
Hall said the demand for cheese is high enough to keep him and his team busy year-round.
“We only have a full-time staff of six workers and a handful of student workers, so we stay pretty busy,” Hall said.
As fall settles in and the holiday season approaches, Hall said the dairy plant will have to kick things into high gear to keep up with cheese orders.
“We sell the majority of our cheese within these next few months,” Hall said.
Hall said the magic behind MSU’s cheese is high-quality ingredients. Milk for the cheese comes from cows on campus, and the dairy plant only uses Grade-A milk, despite the fact that the highest quality milk is not required to make cheese.
Almost all MSU cheese, and a variety of other dairy products, eventually find their way to the MAFES Sales Store, located directly in front of the dairy plant. The store serves as an outlet for the products produced by MAFES’s programs, and in addition to cheese, teh store also sells ice cream, butter, meats, jellies, sauces and more, all produced at MSU.
Troy Weaver, MAFES Sales Store store manager, watches over the cheese store. Weaver, along with three full-time staff members and 15 student workers, maintains and operates the MAFES Sales Store. The proceeds generated by the store fund the dairy plant and costs of operating the store, and, in fact, the entire program is self-sustaining and requires no monetary aid from MSU.
Weaver said the MAFES Store will be out among tailgaters Oct. 24 when MSU plays the University of Kentucky, offering free cheese samples to advertise its holiday cheeses.
Though MSU cheese was not originally produced to form a business within MSU, msucheese.com said the cheese operation allows the plant to support itself and also promotes agricultural and dairy research conducted at MSU. The cheese store is an icon of MSU that not only showcases MSU and Mississippi but also helps provide funding for dairy and agricultural research and study programs.
MSU develops beyond its land-grant roots, but the MSU MAFES store is one campus tradition for students, alumni and Mississippians alike keeping MSU’s agricultural history alive.