My kids love cheese. Basically anything with cheese in the name, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, flaming cheese (it’s a Greek thing) is a favorite at our house so when I discovered a cheese factory not far from us that gave tours, we were on our way to the Hilmar Cheese Company. What we discovered was delicious cheese, a delightful staff and a commitment to sustainability.
The history of the Hilmar Cheese Company is a true “American Dream” business story. The company was founded in 1984 by 12 Central California dairy farm families who wanted to join together to improve the value of their cows’ milk. They invested in research, technology and placed a real value on their employees, and this is how the privately held company continues to be run today.
Hilmar Cheese Company, in 1996, became the largest single-site cheese processor in the world.
In 2014, Hilmar Cheese Company opened their new Headquarters and Innovation Center which is LEED Platinum certified. During the dedication ceremony the CEO and President, John Jeter, remarked, “This is our 30th year in business. We have seen tremendous improvements in technology and we have made the investments to continually improve our ability to conserve, reclaim and recycle. As we designed our headquarters to be efficient, LEED provided a global standard to demonstrate our commitment to a sustainable future.”
At the Hilmar Cheese Company’s Visitors Center in Hilmar, California, which is adjacent to the Headquarters and Innovation Center, the most visible sustainability measure is the company’s extensive water recovery systems. One example, a beautiful reclaimed water waterfall, is pointed out during the tour.
The water recycling facilities in Hilmar and the Dalhart, Texas facility have complex multi-stage water reclamation systems which consist of several steps. These steps include equalization, anaerobic and aerobic digestion and storage.
After the water is reclaimed it is used in a number of ways:
- Recycled water to wash facilities and equipment.
- Recycled water for facility landscaping.
- Recycled water for non-food uses.
- Recycled water to irrigate crops, many used to feed the cows.
The water reclamation systems have biogas (methane) digesters which means that during the anaerobic digestion (a step in the water reclamation) the good bacteria, or the biomass, consumes the organic material in the water and transforms it into methane. The methane is then processes and used to fuel the onsite boilers. This enables the Hilmar Cheese Company to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions.
The Hilmar Cheese Company also utilizes solar energy, more than 20 percent of the energy used for the Headquarters and Innovation Center is solar powered.
In 2015, the company received the 2015 Outstanding Dairy Processing & Manufacturing Sustainability award from Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
The tour at the Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center provided a fun and educational afternoon for my family. We ended the tour with lunch in the delicious café where they serve their Famous Cheese Chowder Soup among other yummy menu items. We also purchased a bunch of Hilmar Cheese Company cheese from the shop located next to the café.
My one critique is that I wish they offered an organic option but maybe that could be a future consideration for the company.
For more information, visit https://www.hilmarcheese.com/.