By Tom Still

MILWAUKEE – If you don’t think technology has been a part of
Wisconsin’s dairy industry since its humble beginnings, consider the story of
Professor Stephen M. Babcock and his butterfat test.

You may know Babcock’s name if for no other reason than the
iconic dairy store on the UW-Madison campus that is named in his honor.

It’s where visitors can buy ice cream, cheese and more in
seemingly endless flavors and forms, all within a setting that speaks to the
university’s historic role in defining Wisconsin as “America’s Dairyland.”

Babcock’s contributions to that image and reality began in
1890, his first year on campus, with the publication of a straight-forward
chemistry experiment. He discovered that all of the compounds of milk – except
for the fat – dissolve in sulfuric acid.

He devised a test that involved adding sulfuric acid to a
known quantity of milk, centrifuging the sample to condense the fat, and
calculating the milk fat or “butterfat” content based on the amount of fat
recovered per volume of milk tested.

It was an easily conducted field test that revolutionized
dairy farming because it set a reliable standard for production, since milk
without sufficient butterfat could not be made into many of the dairy products
we still enjoy today.

Babcock’s test laid the foundation for an agricultural
industry built on quality, science and innovation, from the laboratories and
“Dairy Short Courses” of a still-young university, to the barns of Wisconsin
and to the tables of a growing nation.

Roll forward nearly 125 years and Wisconsin’s dairy industry
faces new challenges to its continued prosperity, from environmental pressures
on the land and water that sustains it, to consumer trends that compel product

Fostering that kind of innovation is the goal of a new
project within the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, one of the world’s
leading centers for discovery within an industry that has become international
in every way.

That global presence was on display last week in Milwaukee,
where about 3,000 people took part in the International Cheese Technology Expo
and related events hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

That expo was a fitting backdrop for the launch of CDR’s
TURBO project, which is an acronym for Tech Transfer, University Research and
Business Opportunity.

The goal for TURBO seems simple enough: Use principles
common to business accelerators to ramp up commercialization of novel dairy
technologies and products.

It’s aimed at removing speed bumps that often slow the
process of “transferring” technology from the lab bench – where too many ideas
remain stuck – to companies and consumers.

Potential users of TURBO could include companies interested
in incorporating more health-oriented dairy ingredients in their products,
companies looking for more efficient production processes, and entrepreneurs
with their own dairy technologies that could benefit from the center’s testing
and development capabilities.

Large companies and individual entrepreneurs alike can also
license technologies from the Center of Dairy Research’s patent portfolio, or
otherwise gain access to other technologies that may not be patentable but are
otherwise available.

What’s on the idea shelf? Here are a few examples:

A process that can be used to separate
beta-casein for more efficient commercial use. Applications include use as a
food ingredient, coffee whitener, whipping and foaming applications, infant
formula and even pharmaceuticals.

Technology that can accelerate the ripening or
“aging” of cheese while improving texture and extending shelf life.

A process for manufacturing a high-protein,
cheddar-like cheese snack with a minimum of 36 percent protein. Applications
include a school lunch program, snack sticks, athletic snacks and weight
management programs.

Technology that can produce a low-fat
mozzarella-type cheese with improved texture and baking properties, with
applications for pizza, frozen meals and school lunch programs.

Agriculture was a $61 billion industry last year in
Wisconsin, representing one-fifth of the state’s gross domestic product, and
dairy accounted for nearly half ($26.5 billion) of the total. Even modest
amounts of new product innovation and production efficiencies will add
significantly to that bottom line.

Wisconsin’s dairy industry has come a long way since
Babcock’s butterfat test, but changing consumer, production, energy and
environmental demands mean science and technology are just as vital to the
industry today as they were at the turn of the 20th century. It makes good
sense to stay on the cutting edge of the world’s cheese board.