Made in the Northwest

Cheese Made Of Cougar Gold

PULLMAN, Wash. - Attached to Ferdinand's ice cream shop on the Washington State Universitycampus is where some of the best and most popular cheese in the Northwest is produced.

"It's been around for over 60 years now," said David Dean, the Direct Marketing Manager for the WSU Creamery. "And we get calls from people who have no affiliation with the university telling us, 'This is the best cheese I've ever had.'"

Cougar Gold is the signature cheese of the WSU Creamery.

"The process takes a little over a day to get the can sealed from the time that we pasteurize it," Creamery manager Russ Salvadelena told us.  "So all that happens right here, right on campus."

Cheese Made Of Cougar Gold

Every morning, milk is brought in from Holsteincows on the south side of Pullman.  The milk then undergoes a careful process of pasteurization and coagulation.  It's cut into curds and whey and poured out on a finishing table, where the creamery's workers, mostly students, help flip it, stack it and, in some cases, add salt.

Workers at the WSU Creamery produce enough cheese to fill 250,000 cans per year - 80 percent of which becomes the world famous Cougar Gold.

WSU is one of about twelve university creameries in operation.  And it's a small operation - typically producing just one batch of cheese per day.

"Fortunately, we had a product like Cougar Gold that has become pretty popular and has kept us viable," said Salvadelena.

It's been around since the 1940s.

"The American military wanted to be able to ship cheese all over the world to their fighting forces," Salvadelena explained.

But the wax the cheese was stored in didn't stand up well to transportation.

"They thought the steel can was the way to go."

So one of the researchers, Dr. Norman Golding of WSU (or Washington State College at that time), got a grant from the military and the American Can Company to figure out how to put cheese in a can.

"So the 'Gold' part of Cougar Gold comes from Dr. Golding's name."

Now that can is as recognizable as the cheese itself, said Salvadelena.

"The metal can with the white and yellow stripes on it is pretty well recognized here in the Northwest. So that really is our logo."

Once the cheese is canned, it's kept in a 13,000 square foot refrigeration unit, not far from the creamery, where it's aged for at least a year.  Most of it is sold as Christmas gifts.

"So between October 15 and December 15, we sell a lot of cheese," Salvadelena said.  "About two-thirds of the cheese that we produce gets sold during that time frame."

In fact, they sell so much around Christmas, they often run out of cheese. 

But every package they ship is personalized with the name of the person who made the cheese and who packed it.  And they'll even ship Cougar Gold to Washington Huskies and Oregon Ducks.

"We'll take all orders," said Dean with a smile. "We don't discriminate that way, so we're good."

But even Northwest rivals will admit those Cougars make some darn good cheese.