Dairy team has firm grip on national competitions

Katrina Sargent

Katrina Sargent

From winning the dairy products judging national competition to receiving scholarships, the SDSU dairy department is full of achievements.

It was quite a season for SDSU’s Dairy Products Judging Team. They placed second in the regional contest on Oct. 11 and then placed first at the national competition in Newark, Ohio, on Oct. 22.

“Each year, three undergraduate students and one graduate student compete in the contest,” said Robert Baer, who has been coaching SDSU’s dairy products judging team for 21 years. Baer is a professor in the Dairy Science Department.

This year’s team included Abbie Wirt, a senior dairy production and biology major; Tricia Schuller, a senior; Jessica Berg, a junior dairy science and business management and marketing major; and Vandana Panchal, a graduate student.

Each member of the team evaluated eight samples of six products. The products judged were: two percent milk, butter, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, vanilla ice cream and Swiss style strawberry yogurt.

“Student results are compared to official scores and then rankings are determined in the contest,” said Baer. The contest takes about five hours to complete, Baer said.

Wirt placed first overall, Schuller placed second overall, Berg was eighth overall and Panchal placed first overall in the graduate contest.

There were 58 contestants from 15 universities across the United States and Canada in the competition.

“We do various samples to calibrate our taste buds with the national judges,” said Wirt.

“Students prepare for the contest by evaluating the six different dairy products for attributes and defects,” said Baer. “We look at flavor, body and texture and appearance and color with the products. We practice, practice and then do more practice to get competitive.”

To join the team, students need to enroll in the dairy products judging class, DS202, which is open to all majors and offered every spring, according to Baer. The students with the highest scores in DS202 are invited to enroll in 401 in the fall.

Each team member trains for one semester for two years, spending one hour five days a week testing eight samples each session, said Wirt.

“A lot of teams don’t have years of experience. (Baer) has been coaching us for two years. ? We knew exactly what to expect,” said Wirt.

Baer also received an award at the national competition. He was named Coach of the Year for the seventh time.

“He is absolutely wonderful,” said Wirt. “I would have been scared out of my pants to be on another team.

“When I asked him how he got to be so good, he said he learned so much because he was the first to be there and the last to leave competitions for five to 10 years,” said Wirt. “He said he talked with other coaches to calibrate his knowledge.”

Wirt said the award generally goes to the coach of the winning team.

Each year, the team competes in two contests. The first is the Midwest Dairy Products Judging Contest, which is always held in Glenview, Ill., at Kraft Foods. The national contest is held in various locations throughout the United States and Canada, said Baer. Previous locations include New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Montreal and Pheonix.

“Dairy products judging is a class that has hands-on learning. You have to put the products in your mouth to taste them,” said Wirt. “It also teaches you to listen and critically evaluate.”