Western innovator: Cheese expert stands alone at WSU
Yager has 'really perfected that blend of art and science'
By MATTHEW WEAVER
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Nial Yager knows cheese. And now he's one of only a few people in the nation with the credentials to prove it.
Yager was among 121 people in the U.S. and Canada to pass the first Certified Cheese Professionals examination administered by the American Cheese Society.
Yager said the goal of the certification is to identify cheese experts. Topics he needed to know included starter bacteria, slicing, packaging, cold storage, aging processes, shipping, grading, handling and even food and wine pairings. The tests took roughly eight months to complete.
"It's one more resource for the creamery to draw upon," Yager, who is the buyer and planner at the Washington State University Creamery, said of his new certification.
The creamery trains students from WSU and the University of Idaho. It also offers an annual short course on cheesemaking, and companies call on the creamery for information or to perform experimental work.
Stephanie Clark, now associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, worked with Yager at WSU. She was thrilled with Yager's certification.
"The kind of impact he's going to have is on students and employees," she said.
Longtime friend Richard Bowman, an Idaho rancher, said Yager is a key ingredient of the creamery.
"He's really perfected that blend of art and science," Bowman said. "If you've ever eaten any Ferdinand's ice cream or had any of the cheeses, they do a really good job with them."
Ferdinand's is the university's gourmet ice cream brand, and Cougar Gold is its best-known cheese variety. They are sold at Ferdinand's Ice Cream Shoppe, which is in the Food Quality Building.
"It's satisfying to be working with a premium product," Yager said. "Every can of cheese we seal in the sealer and every box of ice cream we make, we can take some pride in knowing it's the best product we can make."
Yager didn't set out to become a cheese expert. He began working at the creamery as a milk truck driver in 1988 and fell in love with the creamery. Yager now oversees purchasing of ingredients and products for making the ice cream and cheese.
The creamery produces six batches of cheese each week -- about 800 30-ounce cans of cheese a year. It also produces one batch of ice cream each week, totaling about 250 three-gallon containers. Yager also conducts quality control work.
Yager has helped to add ingredients to make other cheese flavors, like cayenne pepper Crimson Fire, oregano-tomato and a limited edition cracked pepper and chive.
Cheesemakers at the creamery are also experimenting with adding ghost peppers to the cheese. The peppers are among the hottest available.
Occupation: Washington State University Creamery Buyer/Planner
Birthplace: Ephrata, Wash.
Current location: Moscow, Idaho
Family: Wife Trish, three daughters, one son
Education: Two years at Central Washington University, four years general education at Washington State University
Western cheese professionals
Following are other American Cheese Society certified cheese professions from western states.
Christine Bentz, San Diego
Bryan Bergmann, Laguna Niguel
Stacy Braga, Ontario
Rachel Cohen, Petaluma
Michael Cox, Anaheim
Judy Creighton, Angels Camp
Jennifer Ford, Los Angeles
Jonathan McDowell, San Diego
Leah McFadden, Santa Clara
Danielle Slater, Granite Bay
Tom Van Voorhees, Central Point
James Gentry, Seattle
Julia Powers, Tacoma
Lindsay Slevin, Ferndale
Jessica Tice, Seattle
Ned White, Bothell
Matt Caputo, Salt Lake City
Troy Petersen, Salt Lake City