By Slim Smith/The Commercial Dispatch
STARKVILLE — Ten years before he would take over as head of the dairy science department at Mississippi State University, and 30 years before the dairy science building would bear his name, professor Fredrick Herman Herzer had an idea.
Maybe we should make some cheese. So he did.
After considering several varieties, shapes and sizes, Herzer settled on a variety of cheese first developed in the Netherlands called Edam. Herzer settled on a three-pound ball, preserved in red paraffin. It looked like a red cannon ball.
A rush order to Holland secured ten teakwood hoops (molds), which left Holland just before the ports were closed because of World War II and Herzer was in business.
Struggling with just 10 hoops, the department managed to make a few hundred Edams a year.
Now, 75 years and hundreds of thousands of Edam cheese balls later, MSU will celebrate Herzer’s most enduring legacy with a celebration. The April 20 event will be held outside the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES) Sales Store.
MSU President Mark Keenum will preside at a cake-cutting ceremony while MSU staff will distribute commemorative items. The event is free and open to the public.
Most “young” Edam cheese has a very mild flavor, is slightly salty or nutty, and has almost no smell when compared to other cheeses. As the cheese ages, its flavor sharpens, and it becomes firmer. It has a significantly lower fat content than many other traditional cheeses; as little as 28 percent of the cheese is made up of fat.
From its modest beginning, the MSU cheese-making operation has grown significantly over the past 75 years.
From a few hundred hoops produced in 1933, production has soared to 400 balls per day, produced by a staff of six full-time employees and six dairy science students.
Among MSU faithful, the colorful red balls of cheese have become a staple of the Christmas season, with demand far exceeding supply. Typically, MSU quits taking Christmas orders six weeks before the holiday.
Over the years, the Dairy Science Department has added other food items, including jalapeno and Vallagret cheeses, although Edam is, by far, the most popular variety.
The Edam operation provides a self-supporting, semi-commercial size laboratory for teaching and research. In addition, the dairy processing plant manufactures all the fluid milk products, ice cream, and butter that are used on the MSU campus and continues to serve as one of the university’s unique public relations productions.