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Cheese Industry Worker Job Description, Career as a Cheese Industry Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: None

Salary: Starting—$8.50 per hour

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Cheese industry workers change milk into cheese. They make several varieties of cheese from the hard, soft, and semisoft base products. Each of these types of cheeses uses different ingredients, which the workers blend, cook, and prepare in a different manner. Some of the work in cheese production is done by hand. However, most workers tend machines that produce the cheese. In some plants workers are also responsible for maintaining, cleaning, and performing minor repairs on the machines.

Cheese makers usually direct other workers and oversee the use of machines. Workers operate machines that pasteurize and cook the milk. They also monitor the cooking temperature and mix the ingredients into the milk. Ingredients used in cheese making include dye or other coloring and rennet or other cultures. These cultures help to coagulate the milk into curd and whey. Curd is the solid protein part of the milk; whey is the water content. The curd is then separated from the whey and cooked until it reaches the right texture and firmness. Cheese maker helpers assist cheese makers in performing these tasks.

Ingredients are added according to a formula that cheese blenders develop for each type of cheese. Cheese blenders also work on charts and formulas for each type of cheese. They select the ingredients needed for the right blend for each batch. Blenders feel, taste, and smell the cheese while they are making it. Cheese blenders and their assistants also check for firmness, mellowness, acidity, and color and check cheeses stored in the warehouse for texture and flavor to ensure that they have ripened and cured them appropriately.

A cheese blender checks the cheese for texture and firmness before it's packaged. (© Phil Schermeister/Corbis.)

Cheese-making plants also employ workers to maintain and clean the machines. Other employees package the cheese, load it onto trucks, or drive delivery trucks to retail stores. Plants also employ workers as quality control inspectors, sanitary engineers, dairy technologists, and management workers such as plant supervisors and personnel workers.

Education and Training Requirements

Most cheese industry workers are trained on the job, because there are no specific education requirements. However, many employers prefer to hire high school graduates or people who have had some vocational training. Interested students should take courses in shop. Developing mechanical abilities to check and run equipment is also useful. Some states require workers who operate pasteurizing machinery to be licensed. They must pass a written test for the license. Some plants may also require health certification from a licensed physician.

Getting the Job

The placement offices at schools can help students find a job in a cheese factory. Most of the large cheese factories are in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, or other states where milk is plentiful. Many applicants apply directly to the factory for a job. State employment agencies and the newspaper classifieds may list cheese industry jobs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

As cheese maker helpers gain experience and learn about the techniques of cheese making, they may advance to more specialized jobs. It may take several years of experience to become a cheese blender or a cheese maker.

Employment in the cheese industry is declining with increasing mechanization of the process. However, the United States is one of the world's largest producers of cheese; in fact, 2003 cheese production produced an all-time high of 8.6 billion pounds, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. There are usually some openings for skilled cheese industry workers. These jobs become available as people retire or leave the position for other employment.

Working Conditions

Since cheese factories, like dairy plants, are licensed and inspected by state health authorities, they are clean. Standards are set to protect the workers from any hazards when they use the equipment. Machines do much of the work. Some workers may use knives to cut and clean cheese. Others may lift molds or stack and pack finished cheeses. Those who mix ingredients must be alert and accurate in their work. Employees usually work between thirty-six and forty hours a week, and many belong to unions.

Where to Go for More Information

Milk Industry Foundation
1250 H St., NW, Ste. 900
Washington, DC 20005-3952
(202) 737-4332

National Cheese Institute
1250 H St., NW, Ste. 900
Washington, DC 20005-3952
(202) 737-4332

National Dairy Council
10255 West Higgins Rd., Ste. 900
Rosemont, IL 60018-5616
(847) 803-2000
(800) 853-2479

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary with experience and specific jobs. Beginning workers are paid about $8.50 per hour. Cheese makers and blenders earn higher wages. Union factories usually provide paid holidays and vacations, as well as life insurance. In plants where workers are not members of unions, benefits depend on the individual employer's policies.

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