Needing a quick treat? Look no further than the bustling college town of Starkville.
Located on Mississippi State University campus, the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES for short) store is a small shop that sells a selection of cheese and ice cream made right at the school.
While the combo of cheese and ice cream might sound a little odd, they are connected by one thing: good milk from the university’s own herd at the MSU Custer Dairy Processing Plant.
Whether wanting a cheese ball for Christmas, or a nice, cold scoop of ice cream on a hot summer day, the MAFES store is the only place people can buy either treat.
Jay McCelland, dairy plant manager, recently spoke with Mud & Magnolias about the university’s unique dairy treats and what makes them so beloved.
Can you tell me a bit about the dairy plant and, in general, when the process of making cheese and ice cream started?
JM: It started back in 1938 by Dr. Herzer. He wanted to come up with something that could draw the attention of the people, like the football team did. So, he came up with the 3-pound cannon ball. Or otherwise now known as the renowned Edam cheese ball. When the Dairy Plant was built in 1970, production really took off, and it’s been a hot icon ever since.
Between the two, which takes longer to make?
JM: Well, cheese is very hands on. Everything is done by hand, or manual physical labor, from start to finish. We normally work 10-hour days, five days a week, and even have a full-time worker on Saturday and sanitation on Sunday. So, there’s somebody here seven days a week, year-round for the most part.
Ice cream, on the other hand, is totally different because it’s more automated. It’s usually just a day and done. So, while ice cream does have some elements and steps it needs to go through, it’s really the cheese that takes the most effort.
What is the most challenging part about making the cheese?
JM: It’s kind of like baking a cake. It has a mind of its own, if that makes sense. The temperature must be right, it has to sit for a specific amount of time, be cultured and dyed, so every day is a little different with making the cheeses.
How long does it take for cheese to be made?
JM: Doing cheese is a tedious process that actually lasts for months. You make your cheese, and after you get done, you put it up. You won’t know if that cheese has really made the grade, so to speak (going to be edible), until three or so months down the road.
What happens to the cheeses that aren’t up to par?
JM: We actually put those into the pepper jack cheese. You know, adding jalapeno peppers can make just about anything taste good.
What makes your ice cream unique?
JM: One of our biggest sellers is muscadine ice cream. This is something that you don’t see every day, nor do a lot of people know about it unless you’re from the South. But it’s something we’ve come up with here where you take the muscadine juice and make jelly out of it. Then we just ripple it into the ice cream. There are other regular flavors sold as well, but what makes anything good is starting off with good milk, and we’ve got one of the top herds in the state here.
How much product would you say you make?
JM: Right now, we are picking up 10,000 pounds of milk a day while there are 3 ½- to 4-million pounds made in a year between ice cream and cheese.
Finally, what would you tell those who have never tried these products?
JM: We have a very special product here that we work really hard to produce. We’re very proud of it.