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Idaho wine and cheese team up for tasting event

About 55 people with connections to the food industry participated in a June 13 wine and cheese event designed to showcase both commodities and the important role they play in Idaho’s economy.

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

MARSING – Idaho’s top farm commodity teamed up with one of the state’s fastest-growing agricultural sectors during a wine and cheese tasting event designed to showcase the two industries.

About 55 people from a wide spectrum of food-related sectors participated in the June 13 event, which included a dairy tour and crash course in cheese-making at Nederend Dairy in Marsing, followed by a cheese and wine tasting event at Scoria Vineyards in Caldwell.

June is Idaho Wine Month and it’s also National Dairy Month and event organizers said it was a fun way to provide some important thought leaders in the retail and food sectors a hands-on learning experience about the state’s dairy and wine industries.

“We wanted to connect them back to where their food really comes from and showcase the wonderful products that are produced at dairies,” said Jenn Nelson, a spokeswoman for Dairy West, which co-hosted the event along with the Idaho Wine Commission.

Dairy West represents Idaho and Utah dairy producers and the wine commission represents wine grape growers and wineries in Idaho.

The event included chefs, food bloggers, restauranteurs, retailers, processors and distributors.

“The event really showcases the quality wines that are produced here in Idaho vineyards as well as the fantastic cheeses that are produced not only here locally but in all of Idaho and the Northwest region,” Nelson said.

Dairy is Idaho’s top commodity in terms of total farm cash receipts and the wine industry is one of the state’s fastest-growing agricultural sectors.

It made sense to bring the two industries together to promote both, Nelson said. “They go together like hand and glove. They pair extremely well together. The event was a great way to connect the participants with these two industries.”

During the dairy tour, owner and manager John Nederend explained in detail how the operation’s 8,000 milking cows are cared for.

The cows basically enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet daily and eat for about six hours every day. When they’re not eating, they are laying on a soft bedding of sand.

“They get to lay on the beach all day long,” Nederend said. “They are very, very stress-free animals.”

The Nederend Dairy has a full-time veterinarian and nutritionist on staff and a camera system installed throughout the entire dairy records everything, with the footage reviewed daily and saved for three months. All employees are required to go through an animal welfare class.

“We care a lot about the well-being of our animals,” Nederend said. “My grandfather said, ‘Take good care of your cows and your cows will take good care of you.’ Our No. 1 priority here is the welfare of the cows.”

Participants were taken to every part of the dairy and allowed to ask any question they wanted.

Nelson said the operation’s emphasis on animal care is common practice at Idaho dairies.

“This was not a staged presentation,” she said. “This is truly what they do day in and day out. Those farm care standards are a normal practice at our dairies.”

Dairy West’s mission is to inspire trust in dairy products and dairy farming and to build demand for those products, said Dairy West CEO Karianne Fallow.

“One of the ways we hope to build trust is by inviting people to a farm,” she said. “There are so many people who, not by their own fault, have become disconnected from agriculture, yet they are very curious about their food supply. Working on behalf of dairy farmers, we feel that we are uniquely positioned to give people that true farm-to-table experience and, hopefully, a better understanding of how agriculture works and where our food comes from.”

During the tour, participants also got a glimpse of the important role that the dairy and wine industries play in Idaho’s economy.

The dairy sector’s impact on Idaho’s economy is in the billions of dollars and the state’s wine industry directly and indirectly impacts Idaho’s economy to the tune of about $170 million, according to a wine commission study.

Idaho is third in the nation in total milk and cheese production and Idaho’s dairies produce a combined 15 billion pounds of milk per year. A typical milk processing facility in Idaho is supplied by about 80 milk trucks per day, said Eric Bastian, a Dairy West food scientist.

There are 20 milk processing plants in Idaho.

“It’s almost mind-boggling how much milk we have flowing through these plants,” said Bastian.

Idaho had 11 wineries in 2002 and has 54 today.

“The event was designed to showcase the importance of dairy and wine to the state’s economy,” Fallow said.