Tim Czmowski cheese a way of life

For most people, cheese is something to eat. For Tim Czmowski, it’s a way of life.

Tim Czmowski ’85 slowly removes a plug from a wheel of cheese. He has served as a U.S. and international cheese judge since 1995.

Tim Czmowski ’85 slowly removes a plug from a wheel of cheese. He has served as a U.S. and international cheese judge since 1995.

When Czmowski, a 1985 graduate in dairy science and Webster native, examines a piece of cheese, he turns into a connoisseur.

For example, Czmowski slowly removes the sample from the cheese trier and smells both the plug and hole in the wheel of cheese. He closely inspects the sample, looking for holes, before breaking off several pieces. He shares the pieces with fellow observers before rolling one almost flat. During the process, Czmowski explains what he is looking for in the grading process. He wants the cheese to take on a different shape, one unlike the original curds. He wants to feel the texture and structure of the cheese. And, of course, he wants to find out how it tastes.

Czmowski gets plenty of opportunities to taste various flavors, 44 to be exact, of cheese while evaluating the products made at the Agropur cheese plant in Hull, Iowa, where he is the general manager. However, his passion comes out when explaining what makes a champion cheese and how one grades it.

Judging is critical

That start came when at State. He was a member of the 1985 Dairy Products Judging Team that competed in Chicago and Atlanta. He started serving as a cheese judge for the United States Championship Cheese Contest in 1995 and was asked to judge the 1998 World Championship Cheese Contest. In 2005, he became the assistant chief judge in both contests and continues that role.

“I’ve always believed that in order to make a good product, you need to be able to know what a good product is,” Czmowski said. “The judging and evaluation was really critical.

“Initially, to become a judge, you submit an application with your skills to the contest host—the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association—along with the abilities and the cheese styles you’re familiar with and any history you have with grading or judging,” he continued. “In our business, we have to grade our product all of the time because it’s a living, breathing thing. It’s a fermentation process and it’s important to monitor it as it ages in order to satisfy your customers’ expectations. To prove you have what it takes, you have to be able to evaluate and find the defects in many of the various cheese products.”

There were more than 2,600 entries from 22 countries in the 2014 world contest. The judges then selected the 80 recipients of best-of-class awards and then narrowed the entries to 16 before selecting the grand champion and the first and second runners-up.

“Cheese making is an art and a craft. It really is a science,” he said. “The combination of knowing the dairy science, processing techniques and evaluating the products is one of my core beliefs as performed in my duties in the industry now for nearly 30 years.

“I think it’s like anything else. To excel, you have to show your passion. You can’t fake passion, you have to live it,” Czmowski continued.

And Czmowski’s life is cheese.

New venture

Czmowski started his career with an internship at Valley Queen Cheese Factory. After graduating, he landed full-time positions with Land O’Lakes, back to Valley Queen and CPS Scherping, which became Tetra Pak. After Tetra Pak, he served as a founding member of the team that established the Green Meadows Dairy plant of which he serves as general manager following Agropur’s purchase.

“Not many people have the chance to build a dairy plant and I’ve been fortunate to do that,” he said. “I’ve also been fortunate and had the privilege of having a number of very good mentors in my career. They’ve made me also be passionate about the people side. I really enjoy working as part of a team.”

Czmowski added more cheese to his life when he and his wife, Patty, opened Cheese World, a specialty store with more than 200 cheese varieties, in Sioux Falls in early 2014.

His oldest son, Michael Czmowski, a 2011 State graduate in horticulture, serves as the store’s general manager. He also volunteers at the world and U.S. contests.

Another son, Matthew, also works at Cheese World when not majoring in mechanical engineering at State and playing as a member of The Pride of Dakotas. Like his brother, he also volunteers at the world and U.S. contests.

Stays in touch

In addition to having his sons attend State, Czmowski regularly visits campus to speak with students about the industry, recruit students for internships or full-time employment and, on behalf of Agropur, serves on the Jackrabbit Dairy Council.

“I’m incredibly proud of my degree from SDSU,” he said. “I started as a freshman working at the dairy plant and learned how to make cheese. I made ice cream and butter, processed milk, chocolate milk and orange juice and all of that good stuff but I could tell I had a passion for cheese making. That passion grew into doing an internship at a cheese plant. The real-life experience that the SDSU Dairy Science Department gives you prepares one very well for a future career in dairy.

“I’m very connected and appreciative to what the dairy science faculty did for me when I was a student and I hope I can give back somehow to the students who are there now,” Czmowski continued. “It’s powerful to see the impact that SDSU has had on this industry. There aren’t many plants out there that don’t have or haven’t had some exposure to an SDSU dairy science graduate.”

Czmowski will be looking for more Jackrabbits to join him and the team at Agropur as the Hull plant is planning to double its capacity in the near future.

“Having grown up on a dairy farm, I knew the farm side of the business and always wanted to know what happened on the other side of the milk truck,” he said. “I always felt this was really a great opportunity and could be one of my most enjoyable options for a career. That is exactly what it has turned out to be.”

Matt Schmidt

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