1 Comment

Cougar Gold – the cheese in a tin

Sales of WSU’s Cougar Gold, other varieties nationwide support Food Science school, keep alumni supplied
The Spokesman-Review Dec. 19, 2011


The packages in a Washington State University warehouse are addressed to distant cities in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Missouri. They’re consumer testimonials to the far-flung appeal of Cougar Gold.

The WSU Creamery will ship about 50,000 boxes of the crumbly, white cheddar – which comes in an iconic gold-striped can – and other Cougar-brand cheeses this holiday season. Some of the shipments are Christmas gifts for distant alumni, who yearn for a taste of the Palouse.

“Yesterday, it was a woman who graduated in ’52, who’s still ordering her Cougar Gold,” said Andrea Hefte, an assistant in the WSU Creamery’s call center, where 13 workers process phone and Internet orders.

But about half of Cougar cheese orders are placed by people with no WSU affiliation. They discovered the brand somewhere else.

“The cheese sells itself in a lot of ways,” Hefte said. “I take orders from Tillamook, Oregon; Vermont and Wisconsin. … I like to tell myself that those customers know good cheese when they taste it.”

The WSU Creamery sells about $5.5 million of Cougar-brand cheese each year, with the majority of the sales occurring between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A 30-ounce can of cheese costs $18, plus shipping and handling.

Last week, the WSU Creamery shipped out 8,000 boxes of cheese on a single day. After a 12-hour day in the shipping department, “I had a couple of dreams about boxing cheese,” said Brett Pinkleton, a student worker.

In addition to Cougar Gold, the WSU Creamery sells seven other varieties of cheese. Cougar Gold, however, remains the most popular variety, accounting for about 80 percent of the sales.

The recipe hasn’t changed in more than 60 years, when dairy professor N.S. Golding developed a white cheddar that could ripen in a can. Beginning in the 1930s, food scientists at WSU started researching how to package hard cheeses in cans. The U.S. government later funded some of the research in response to the need for more canned goods during World War II.

But carbon dioxide produced by the bacteria in cheese was an impediment, causing cans of cheese to bulge or even burst. Golding solved the problem when he discovered that adding a second starter culture to the cheese reduced the carbon dioxide output.

Cougar Gold was named for Golding. His namesake cheese is more crumbly than traditional cheddar, and the taste is more complex. Some people compare the flavor to Swiss or Gouda, said Russ Salvadalena, WSU Creamery manager.

“A lot of customers intentionally age it,” he said of Cougar Gold. “The flavor gets nuttier, but the cheese stays smooth and sweet.”

WSU Creamery employs between 40 and 75 workers in retail sales, production and direct marketing, depending on the time of year. Profits from sales of Cougar cheese support WSU’s School of Food Science, including student scholarships.

Cheese production takes place Monday through Friday, with the creamery turning out 1,500 pounds per day. One of the jobs is to pick up the milk at 4:30 each morning. The milk used in cheese production comes from 170 Holstein dairy cows managed by the Animal Sciences Department.

The cheese ages for a year in a climate-controlled warehouse, which is kept at 45 degrees. Until 2007, the WSU Creamery sold out of Cougar cheese each year, but an expansion has allowed the creamery to keep up with demand, Salvadalena said.

Cougar Gold got a plug from Women’s Day magazine this year, which recommended the cheese as a Christmas gift for food lovers in its December issue.

But once you give a gift of Cougar cheese, you have to continue the tradition, said Brandi Ellison, the WSU Creamery’s warehouse manager.

She sends Cougar Gold to her grandfather, chiropractor, babysitter and the Schwan’s man; dill garlic cheese to her parents; and a semisoft hot-pepper variety to her sister. Her in-laws get Crimson Fire, which has jalapeño and cayenne peppers.

“If you send them Cougar cheese one year and don’t send it the next, they think you’re mad at them,” Ellison said.



One comment on “Cougar Gold – the cheese in a tin

  1. Don’t let that can throw you. Cougar Gold is a tasty, cheddar-ish cheese that has garnered a cult following. It’s aged for one year before release.The color of butter, it’s creamy, mild but tangy, and a little hard to stop eating.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Cheese Making Years

The Adventures of Anne Hastings in the World of Cheese

Secondary Culture

cheesy adventures in the world of milk, cultures, and mold

Finger, Fork & Knife

I'm Kate and Finger, Fork and Knife is where I record the recipes that excite, nourish and inspire me. I focus on wholesome, high-nutrition, home-cooked food - recipes that satisfy and delight. Welcome!

The House Mouse

One girl's journey through the cheese world

Salutation Recipes

I'm trying to keep a log of all the things we cook which taste really lovely. You know what it's like: you tweak and tweak a recipe until it's barely recognisable and then wonder how you used to make it. And it will also save a lot of time and bits of paper when it comes to sharing those recipes with friends.

Saucy Pans

Food Reviews and Recipes around Bristol & Cardiff


The blog


Walk and Bike in France. www.icietlanature.com


"It's so beautifully arranged on the the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it." - Julia Child

A Crust Eaten

Living life one plate at a time

%d bloggers like this: