Grant-Funded Programming

In October 2021, WASCA received word that we had received a Farmers Market Promotion Program grant award from the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service. WASCA’s Grant Committee had submitted an application for the grant in June 2021.

According to the USDA website:

The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) funds projects that develop, coordinate and expand direct producer-to-consumer markets to help increase access to and availability of locally and regionally produced agricultural products by developing, coordinating, expanding, and providing outreach, training, and technical assistance to domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agritourism activities, online sales or other direct producer-to-consumer (including direct producer-to-retail, direct producer-to-restaurant and direct producer-to-institutional marketing) market opportunities.

In our application, we framed our project with the following executive summary:

Washington may not be “America’s Dairyland,” but it is a cheese state. There are 53 licensed cheesemakers in Washington. This number includes farmstead cheesemakers who are dairy farmers, artisan cheesemakers who purchase milk for value‐added cheesemaking, and industrial‐level creameries. Most Washington cheesemakers produce cheeses on small or medium scale, selling less than $250,000 annually. Many of their cheeses are not available in stores, as they sell exclusively from farm stands or farmer’s markets. The Washington State Cheesemakers Association (WASCA) was founded in 2015 to support cheesemakers through education, promotion, and collaboration. FMPP funds would assist WASCA in efforts to educate consumers about the variety and quality of cheeses made in Washington. Many consumers became conscious of the importance of their local food economy during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Our organization would like to build that momentum to help Washington cheesemakers expand their market reach and attract more customers.

This project will result in increased sales to cheesemakers and dairy farmers producing fluid cheese milk by way of: 1) Strengthening cheesemakers’ ability to draw long‐term sales by providing them educational trainings in food safety, regulations, and cheesemaking science; 2) Establishing a “Washington Cheese Month” celebrated with in‐person and virtual events to engage cheesemakers and farmers, consumers, and vendors; 3) Building a “Meet the Cheesemakers” campaign to  connect consumers directly with cheesemakers via agritourism, festivals, educational seminars and tastings, and other communications; and 4) Developing a retail marketing campaign for Washington cheeses sold in grocery stores, including a cheesemonger education program and merchandise signage.

Our project has four objectives that must be completed by September 2024.

Objective 1:
Cheesemaker Education

In order to strengthen cheesemakers’ ability to draw repeat sales and sustain growth, provide educational training to increase cheesemaker food safety knowledge, regulatory understanding, cheesemaking skills, and business know‐how. These trainings will be held in‐person and virtually, and recorded sessions will be available online for subsequent viewing.

Objective 2:
Washington Cheese Month

In order to increase consumer knowledge of Washington cheeses, which still lags behind knowledge of domestic cheeses made in other regions, dedicate one month of every year to local cheese advocacy through Washington Cheese Month. This dedication will be supported by one large event, as well as retail and direct‐to‐consumer marketing promotions which will encourage consumers to try Washington cheeses and will celebrate the work of Washington cheesemakers and dairy farmers.

Objective 3:
Meet the Cheesemakers

In order to build relationships between cheesemakers and consumers, develop a series of smaller “Meet the Cheesemaker” events to take place over the course of three years in regions throughout the state that are home to a high density of licensed creameries (e.g., Whatcom, Skagit, Thurston, King, and Okanogan counties, etc.). Design these events so that consumers can chat with cheesemakers, sample their cheeses, and learn where to purchase those cheeses on a regular basis. Other local producers whose agricultural products (e.g., wine, beer, cider, preserves, etc.) pair well with cheese may also be included to help support the cheeses.

Aside from these official events, partner with regional organizations to execute the plan for Washington’s version of “The Hunt,” a state‐wide scavenger hunt styled after one developed in 2020 by the Vermont Cheese Council (VCC). The VCC has given WASCA the endorsement to create Washington’s own version of The Hunt. This event will be self‐guided and encourage participants to visit specific businesses, historical sites, and natural parks and attractions, and engage with communities in each region of the state. The Hunt will use WASCA’s “Find Washington Cheese” map as a base from which to guide consumers to visit creameries. This will also benefit agritourism, farm stands, and farmers markets, as well as smaller communities that are not usually host to larger festivals.

To ensure all cheesemakers are able to benefit from the additional promotion of the events in Objective 3 and Objective 4, a photographer will be retained to prepare photos and videos for those cheesemakers who do not currently have professional marketing materials. The photographer will travel to the creameries to photograph the cheeses, cheesemaking process, and farm or farm stand as applicable. The availability of photos and videos on the creameries’ websites, on WASCA’s website, and on supporting materials for events and promotions will provide an extra avenue for consumers to see who their local cheesemakers are and learn more about them.

Objective 4:
Retail Marketing Campaign

In order to encourage shoppers to choose local cheeses over domestic commodity or imported cheeses, facilitate a retail marketing campaign to connect grocery store shoppers with the local cheeses sold in larger stores’ retail cases. This campaign will place WASCA’s “Choose Washington Cheese” sticker on Washington‐made cheeses in those cases, with supporting messaging on table‐top signage, shelf talkers, and other merchandising.

This campaign to be supported by an education campaign for cheesemongers that will include trainings and educational seminars, as well as access to an archive of tasting notes and information about the local cheeses they carry. The educational seminars and the archive of tasting notes and cheese information are included in the development of this campaign.

Learn more about our initiatives.

View the presentation given during our 2022 Annual Member Meeting or watch the meeting recording online to hear the presentation.

Current Initiatives

Meet the Cheesemakers: American Cheese Society Conference Event

Meet the Cheesemaker takes place during the ACS Annual Conference. The event enables producers of cheese and cultured dairy products to meet with and sample products to hundreds of key industry distributors, retailers, buyers, and food writers from throughout North America.

Because this year’s conference is so close to home, in Portland, Oregon, Washington is bringing a strong presence to this year’s events. Cheesemakers who will be present include Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Cascadia Creamery, Ferndale Farmstead, and Twin Sisters Creamery. WASCA’s executive director, Courtney Johnson, will also be present to support the cheesemakers during the event.

July 22, 2022 – Portland, Oregon
4:00 pm – 4:30 pm: Retailer and Distributor Preview
4:30 pm – 6:30 pm: Open to all Attendees

Grant Initiative Survey – Results

In January and February 2022, we surveyed a broad group of cheese enthusiasts, cheesemakers, industry businesses, and other interested parties to see what grant initiatives enjoyed the most support.

The most significant feedback we received from their responses is as follows:

  • In the event planning category, 45% said they were not interested in volunteering to provide support for grant-funded programming
  • In the education category, 45% were most interested in attending a food safety webinar presented by the Washington Dairy Farmers
  • In the education category, 45% were interested in attending a cheesemakers-only Zoom happy hour with guest speakers (with a preference for Friday afternoons or evenings)
  • In the education category, 36% were interested in a general cheese-community Zoom happy hour (with a preference for Friday afternoons or evenings)
  • For planning Washington Cheese month, 64% were interested in sponsoring Washington cheese samples in an effort to educate state legislators about the Washington cheese industry and encourage them to support an official Washington Cheese Month
  • For planning a Meet the Cheesemakers events series, 64% were most interested in attending or taking part in smaller “Meet the Cheesemaker” events in a farmers-market format with accompanying education sessions for attendees
  • For planning a Meet the Cheesemakers events series, 36% were interested in attending or taking part in a Spring Cheese Festival in Woodinville in May
  • For planning a Meet the Cheesemakers events series, 36% were most interested in attending or taking part in an educational event at a traveling Meet the Cheesemakers event
  • 36% were interested in soliciting retailers to support Washington Cheese Month-related retail marketing campaign
  • 36% were retailers who were interested in taking part in a Washington Cheese Month-related retail marketing campaign
  • 46% were cheesemakers who were interested in having a photographer come to their creamery to take professional photos and videos
  • 64% were most interested in events taking place in Seattle or King County
  • 45% were most interested in events taking place in Bow or Skagit County
  • 36% were tied as most interested in events taking place in Bellingham/Whatcom County, Woodinville, and Portland
  • 36% were most interested in events taking place online only
  • 45% of respondents were most interested in attending events as a ticket-holder
  • 45% of respondents were most interested in volunteering at events

Event Participation Survey

In March 2022, we surveyed cheese enthusiasts, folks in the industry, and anyone who wanted to learn more about cheese. The goal was to find out how they were feeling about in-person and virtual events.

The most significant feedback we received from their responses is as follows:

  • 91% were interested in both indoor and outdoor events, regardless of masking requirements
  • 91% were interested in attending a smaller “Meet the Cheesemakers” event following the format of a 90-minute seminar (featuring a guest speaker, a panel discussion with cheesemakers, and a guided tasting of their cheeses) followed by a 45-minute meet-and-greet with cheesemakers, priced at $30 per ticket
  • 66% were equally interested in attending events in Spring 2022 as they would be in attending events in Fall 2022
  • 83% were interested in attending the Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival in September 2022
  • 50% were interested in attending the Cheese and Meat Festival in October 2022
  • Interest in event locations was as follows: King County (83%); Skagit County (58%); Pierce and Whatcom counties (50% each); Okanogan, Thurston, and Yakima Counties (16% each); and Klickitat County (8%)

2022 Educational Offerings

PCQI Certification with Bates Consulting: Cheesemakers, please reach out if you are interested in taking this three-day in-person training in 2022 (Whatcom or Skagit County) or 2023 (Thurston County).

GMP/Food Safety Training with Bates Consulting: Cheesemakers, please reach out if you are interested in taking this 4-hour online training in 2022.

Food Safety Seminar with Washington Dairy Farmers: Cheesemakers, please let us know what topics are of interest this year. So far HAACP-plan writing has been suggested as the most pressing topic.

Help us plan Washington Cheese Month! 

Retailers – please reach out to WashingtonCheese@gmail.com to help shape future advocacy for Washington cheeses.

Photo Opportunity!

We are beginning to schedule visits for a photographer to come out and take pictures and videos at up to 35 creameries around the state. The service is paid for by the grant, so there is no cost to the creamery. If you are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity, please send an email to WashingtonCheese[at]gmail.com and let us know!

Meet the Cheesemakers: Northwest Tour

Proposed schedule:

  • July 22, 2022 – American Cheese Society Meet the Cheesemakers, 4:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • October 15, 2022 – King County (21 Acres Center, Woodinville)
  • December 2022 – Whatcom County (Bellewood Farms, Bellingham)
  • April 2023 – Okanogan County (location TBA)
  • June 2023 – Thurston County (location TBA)
  • August 2023 – Yakima County (location TBA)
  • October 2023 – Skagit County (location TBA)
  • December 2023 – Pierce County (location TBA)

The idea: a 90-minute talk led by a guest speaker about cheesemaking and Washington cheese, featuring a panel discussion with 3-6 cheesemakers and a guided tasting of their cheeses, followed by a 45-minute meet-and-greet with cheese sales and conversation. Tickets sold will cover event-related costs not paid for by grant funds.

Pasteurization Workshop

WSU Creamery is offering this 3-day class on pasteurization that covers vat, basic HTST systems, and on the 3rd day HHST. Additional discussions on magnetic flow timed systems and systems with auxiliary equipment are included. Hands-on activities are conducted in the WSU Creamery Facilities. Course is suggested for plant operators, maintenance personnel, quality personnel, management and suppliers to the industry.

April 26-28
Pullman, WA
Cost is $500 or $650

Planned initiatives in 2022, 2023, and 2024
Objective 1:
Cheesemaker Education

Food Safety & Nutrition Workshops
by Dairy Farmers of Washington

Basic Plus Cheese Making Short Course
at WSU Creamery

Advanced Cheese Making Short Course
at WSU Creamery

GMP/Food Safety Refresher
by Bates Consulting

PCQI Training
by Bates Consulting

FSMA Traceability Rule
by Bates Consulting

Pasteurization Workshop
at WSU Creamery

(Held April 26-28, 2022)

Objective 3: Meet the Cheesemakers

Meet the Cheesemakers:
American Cheese Society Conference
Portland, OR – July 2022

Meet the Cheesemakers Event:
King County

Meet the Cheesemakers Event:
Thurston County

Meet the Cheesemakers Event:
Skagit County

Meet the Cheesemakers Event:
Okanogan County

Meet the Cheesemakers Event:
Whatcom County

Meet the Cheesemakers Event:
Yakima County

Meet the Cheesemakers Event:
Pierce County

Bellingham Cheese + Beer Festival

The Hunt

Washington Cheese + Friends
Passport Program

Our Grant Partners

We were required to provide a 25% match to the federal funds we requested in our grant application. That match could be in cash, or in-kind contributions. We would never have been able to provide the match without the generosity and commitment of the following organizations who partnered with us to make this grant project possible: