The National Cheese Institute today bestowed its highest honor, the NCI Laureate Award, on Mark Johnson, Ph.D. and senior scientist, the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The award was presented to Johnson during a luncheon ceremony at the International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Forum 2010 by NCI Chairman Dave Fuhrmann, who is president and CEO of Foremost Farms, USA, Cooperative. The NCI Laureate Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and growth of the U.S. cheese industry. A panel of industry professionals chooses a winner each year based on a person’s long-term contributions to the industry.
Throughout his 29-year career in the dairy industry, Johnson has had a profound impact on the innovation and economic growth of U.S. cheese companies. He specializes in the chemistry and microbiology of cheese, often using his unique ability to perceive trends in technology to direct his research and solve problems.
As one of his major achievements, Johnson discovered how to eliminate the calcium lactate “white haze” defect on cheese surfaces. He also developed procedures to fortify cheese with prebiotics, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids, and created ways to manufacture cheese with 50 percent reduced fat and reduced sodium.
Johnson currently holds six patents, including one for the process to manufacture reduced-fat cheddar and Wisconsin-style Havarti cheeses. A popular teacher, lecturer and writer, Johnson also has written nearly a dozen books and has published five dozen articles in technical research publications.
Since 1999, Johnson has served as either a panelist or expert judge in a number of industry cheese contests. In addition to the NCI award, he has received the 1992 American Dairy Science Association Pfizer Award in Cheese and Cultured Products Research and the 2002 University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. Other cheese industry pioneers who have won the NCI Laureate Award include Jerome Schuman, Larry Ferguson, Mark Davis, Wes Allen, Elmer Marth, Max Gonzenbach, Rudy Nef, Don Menzner, Betsy Holden, Don Storhoff, Lester Kielsmeier, Hans Epprecht, Norm Olson,
Vince Zehren, Jack Budahn, Leonard Gentine Sr., Raymond Goldbach, Harold Steinke, John H. Nelson and Dave Nusbaum.