A major expansion will double the size of Hilmar Cheese Co.'s plant in Dalhart, Texas, but officials said Wednesday that the move doesn't signify any shift in the company's commitment to California.
"Our facility in Hilmar is our headquarters," said John Jeter, chief executive officer and president of Hilmar Cheese. "Here, we are investing in new technology along with research and development."
Those investments include $250,000 to the University of California at Davis, announced last month. The money will go toward construction of the new August A. Busch III Brewing and Food Science Laboratory. The lab, which includes milk processing facilities for research and student training, is set to open this fall.
"The UC Davis donation is part of our overall commitment to students, California and the future of the dairy industry," said plant spokeswoman Denise Skidmore. "It is part of our community giving."
Hilmar Cheese, the largest cheese-producing facility in the world, makes about 1.4 million pounds each day at its Merced County plant. The Dalhart plant produces about 500,000 pounds, a number expected to double when the expansion is complete this fall.
Both plants have been running at full capacity since January 2009, Skidmore said.
"This additional capacity will give us the ability to continue to grow our business as our global customers grow as well," she said. "Demand for our product remains strong."
Twelve dairy families founded Hilmar Cheese in 1984. The Hilmar plant makes cheddar, Monterey jack, pepper jack, Colby, Colby jack, mozzarella and speciality cheeses for use in food service, ingredients, retail products and restaurants. It also makes whey protein and lactose powder.
Grants and the potential for expansion led Hilmar Cheese to Dalhart; at the time, Jeter said regulatory uncertainties in California made it difficult to expand here.
The company paid $3 million in 2006 to settle a pollution case brought by the Central Valley Regional Quality Water Control Board. Since then, the company has operated under a permit aimed at preventing future problems.
Kristine Olsen, president of the Dalhart Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion is good news for the community.
"We've been really excited to have Hilmar in our community," she said. The plant brought about 200 jobs, and hiring of an additional 50 people is under way.