November 11, 2014

Cornell Dairy Bar’s Jason Huck: The Man Behind the Flavors

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As a quality production expert, ice cream connoisseur and self-proclaimed dairy enthusiast, Cornell Dairy Plant Manager Jason Huck M.S. ’06 said he knows that manufacturing dairy products takes more than just a squeeze of the udder.

Jason Huck (Michelle Feldman / Sun Senior Editor)

Jason Huck (Michelle Feldman / Sun Senior Editor)

Jason Huck (Michelle Feldman / Sun Senior Editor)

Jason Huck (Michelle Feldman / Sun Senior Editor)

Huck — who came to Cornell in 2005 to work towards his masters in food science with a focus on dairy — said exploring the link between farming and food production is an exciting concept for him.

“I came from an agricultural background,” he said. “So, part of my goal was to be the [connection] between the fields of agriculture and food processing.”

While he was an undergraduate student at the University of Vermont, Huck said he started a sheep dairy farm in Northern Vermont that sold “high-end” lamb products to restaurants in New York City and Boston.

Huck added that he stayed in Vermont for two years before arriving at Cornell to study fluid milk quality. He then left Ithaca for an internship that granted him important work experience.

“I took an internship with HP Hood that turned into much more than just an internship,” Huck said. “I was supposed to be an intern in the quality assurance department. But, the week I got there, [the factory’s] quality assurance manager went out on maternity leave … so I essentially became the intern quality assurance manager.”

He said the experience brought him back to Cornell and eventually landed him a job as manager of the Cornell Dairy Plant, where he runs dairy operations with a full-time staff of nine others.

“We do everything from picking the milk up at the farm, to processing the milk into all the products we make, to packaging and distribution, sales and marketing and so on,” Huck said.

As a lead member of the research and development team at the Dairy Plant, Huck said that creating new ice cream flavors — and bringing back old favorites — is the best part of his job, adding that he gets to create the flavors he likes.

“One of the flavors I brought back is the old Ben and Jerry’s flavor vanilla chocolate chunk,” Huck said. “I used [the Dairy Bar’s] vanilla as a base and then sought out a very high quality dark chocolate chunk.”

Huck, who said he believes that top-notch production quality is among the most important goals of the Dairy Plant, has seen a growth in production numbers since the Plant’s reopening earlier this year.

“What’s amazing is from when we shut down to today, we’re producing about 5,000 more gallons of ice cream for campus than we did before,” Huck said. “I think part of that is the new visibility of the Dairy Bar and the fact that we have a great new building here in Stocking Hall.”

The new dairy plant facility, which opened in January , was a part of a $105 million renovation project to Stocking Hall, according to the University.

While the plant was shut down, Huck said his team was forced to operate at an off-campus distribution facility while still servicing the same clientele. According to Huck, though the transition was challenging due to the lack of resources at the new facility, it was “a lot of fun.”

“We brought in milk from HP Hood, ice cream from Perry’s and still made our own yogurt, pudding and processed juice,” he said. “When we brought all this together, we were still able to distribute to our existing customers.”

Huck said that the opening of the new plant has been the most exciting moment of his career.

“The opening [marked] a culmination of thought, hard work and many hours on site,” he said. “Our first successful production run was definitely a monumental day.”

While the new plant has only been operating for approximately one year, Huck said he already has big plans for Cornell Dairy’s future — including a new ice cream flavor for Cornell’s sesquicentennial celebration, a new “Cornell Dairy Hot Chocolate” product line and the expansion of product sales to other State University of New York campuses across the state.

However, the Dairy Plant does not have any intention to expand any further beyond SUNY campuses, according to Huck.

“Our goal is to really support and provide research for the industry,” Huck said. “We don’t want to compete with the industry that we’re trying to support. That being said, there are definitely opportunities to support product development projects.”

While not working at the plant, Huck said he enjoys bird watching in his spare time as it yields “an interesting balance between agriculture and conservation.”

“Today I look at dairy farms that are taking down roads and natural habitat and I really think that this can be avoided,” he said. “There are programs that can be put in place to find a balance. There’s a great link between conservation and where [the industry] is moving with agriculture.”

Huck said he encourages all who are interested in food science and food production to pursue their passions and to continued developing their interests.

“Seek new and challenging opportunities, but also have fun in your career path,” he said. “It will lead to your success.”