One thing we all know is that Madera County needs more employers, because it also needs more jobs. It seems logical to me at least one of those new employers could be a cheese factory.
Milk is regularly one of the highest-value crops in Madera County. In 2010, the most recent year for which we have data, it was the crop of third-highest value, at $236.6 million. (Almonds were first, at $271 million and pistachios were second, at $240 million.)
All that milk production is wonderful, except for one thing: Virtually all of the milk produced by Madera County cows is hauled to processors in other counties. The dairy farmers have to pay half, and in some cases all of the cost of that hauling. Milk is heavy, and expensive to truck around. The farther the milk has to be hauled, the less the farmers make.
Having a cheese factory in the county would be great vertical integration. Just as wineries add value to grapes produced here and employ people doing so, a cheese factory would add value to milk. And, it would employ people — perhaps hundreds, depending on the size of the factory — who already live here.
The majority of the county’s dairy farmers belong to cooperatives which take the milk out of the county, but perhaps one of those co-ops could be persuaded to build a processing plant in Madera County so some of the added value could stay here. And the co-ops could save on hauling the milk.
Cheese factories can be small or large, depending on the interests and capital of the owners. Some small cheeseries in California milk their own cows; some are huge, employing more than 1,000.
California has a big cheese industry. Madera County, with its milk production, labor pool and relative closeness to large markets, could, and should be a part of it.