Center for Dairy Research’s Luis A. Jiménez-Maroto, front right, and Brian Riesterer, background left, chat with the public while handing out samples during Babcock Hall's public open house on Apr. 14. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

Last week, UW–Madison celebrated the completion of a major construction project for Babcock Hall – considered the heart of campus’s dairy product research and training – a project that involved the full renovation of the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, known for its popular Babcock ice cream, as well as a new, three-story addition for the Center for Dairy Research (CDR), a world-class resource for dairy processors.

Last week’s festivities included a grand opening celebration on Thursday, Apr 13 to recognize donors to the project, as well as a public open house on Friday, Apr. 14 to introduce campus and community members to the new and improved facilities. The dairy plant’s renovation was the first major upgrade to the plant since it was built in 1951. With the CDR addition, the center now has the space and equipment it needs to support — and expand — its work helping companies develop new products, troubleshoot production challenges and train dairy professionals.

Thursday’s grand opening celebration included a short program with remarks from state and UW officials as well as dairy industry leaders about the partnerships that got this project over the finish line and the important role of the renovated facilities.

“We know very well that moving food science and the dairy industry forward is not a job for the university alone or for industry alone. It requires partnership,” said UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin. “This project shows what we can accomplish when the university, industry, and government work together.”

UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin speaks during the grand opening celebration on Apr. 13. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

The total cost of the Babcock Hall renovation and expansion project was $72.9M. Project funding came from private donors, the State of Wisconsin and UW–Madison. Nearly 200 donors — primarily from the state’s cheese industry — fundraised over $18M to support the project.

“It was quite a task to take the 1950s dairy plant and turn it into a cutting-edge, state-of-the art facility,” said Scott Rankin, professor and chair in the Department of Food Science, at the grand opening event. “I want to express my appreciation for what we will accomplish in the next phase [of these facilities]. For the many thousands of the future students and professionals [who will receive training here], I want to say thank you all for helping us achieve this great accomplishment.”

The grand opening program ended with a unique ribbon cutting ceremony. Instead of cutting a traditional ribbon, Lou Gentine, chair of the board at Sargento Foods Inc., used an oversized pair of red scissors to cut through a rope of braided mozzarella cheese that was specially produced by Crave Brothers Cheese for the celebration.

Lou Gentine, center, chairman of the board of Sargento Foods, prepares to cut a braided rope of mozzarella cheese during the grand opening celebration on Apr. 13. Gentine is flanked by Randy Romanski, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, left, and John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, right. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

Friday’s public open house, as well as Thursday’s event, featured an interactive self-guided tour showcasing new equipment and expanded research capabilities — and a chance to taste the results. Tour participants had the opportunity to explore the largest dairy research center in the United States, plus learn about the popular products manufactured in the UW dairy plant. Along the way, they were treated to Babcock ice cream as well as many samples of cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products developed in collaboration with industry partners by the CDR, which works with more than 120 dairy companies each year. Around 450 people attended the public open house.

Visitors look out over the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant from the observation deck during the public open house on Apr. 14. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.
Public open house attendees take samples of cheese and other snacks from a Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin table on Apr. 14. The table featured products of graduates of the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program, a CDR-run program. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

“Wisconsin is often celebrated as America’s Dairyland – as we should – because we have thousands of farms, hundreds of dairy processors and numerous dairy businesses,” said DATCP secretary Randy Romanski, at the grand opening event. “Babcock Hall and its world-class facilities are now just another reason that dairy enthusiasts will continue to look at Wisconsin as a leader.”