Iowa State DPET takes home competition awards

Student News

Dairy Product Evaluation Club members reflect on their experiences

For the Iowa State University Dairy Products Evaluation Club (DPEC), being an accurate evaluator of dairy products takes practice and refinement — sometimes years of it. The ultimate goal is to be a connoisseur of taste, mouthfeel, and flavor of six staple dairy products: butter, cheddar cheese, ice cream, 2 percent milk, creamed cottage cheese, and Swiss-style yogurt.

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the 98th Annual Collegiate Dairy Products Competition returned to Milwaukee, WI, in 2022, and invited eight school programs across the country to put their training to the test. After five-straight hours and 48 samples each of the staple dairy products, Iowa State students showed-out among over 35 competitors.

In the individual undergraduate class:

  • Bailey Hauge (junior in Food Science) placed first in yogurt judging
  • Ethan Murrow (senior in Agriculture Education) placed fifth in butter judging and sixth in milk judging
  • Abbie Sesker (junior in Animal Science) placed eighth in both butter and ice cream judging, tenth in cottage cheese judging, and ninth in overall product judging.

For the individual graduate class: Karin Cho (senior, Masters in Food Science and Technology) placed first in yogurt judging, second in cottage cheese judging, third in cheddar cheese judging, fourth in both butter and milk judging, and third in overall product judging.

Additionally, Hauge was the recipient of the Joe Larson Merit Awards for leadership. Established in 1998, this award honors “undergraduate students that best uphold the ideals of the Contest.”

While some might give pause at the image of a large group of students competitively tasting several dairy products for sport, participation in the competition it not only a tradition among dairy students nationwide, but also influential in the career paths of all those who compete. Donors and judges from companies across the country participate in various aspects from funding, donating, participating, and providing products.

“It’s a big deal,” said Dr. Stephanie Clark, DPEC advisor. “We have people who themselves were in the contests, and now they’re CEOs in the businesses participating and around the globe.”

While the competition itself is rigorous, for the Iowa State club members, being a part of DPEC has little to do with their major or academics, or career, but has everything to do with the camaraderie, a desire to understand the standards that go into creating commonly known products, and being able to work closely and learn from Dr. Clark. A taste for butter, cheese, milk, and ice cream also helps.

For Cho, dairy products have always been here favorite since she was young. Joining the club, combined with her graduate studies, seemed to make sense when understanding how to assess a product and compare various brands.

“Before coming to this club, I thought all supermarket products were the same,” Cho said. “I thought industry had standardized all the flavors and things. Once you’re in this club you realize, they don’t have it all down. It was good to learn about the potential taste shortcomings that can be present in the store brand products that consumers expect to be perfect.”

Murrow, senior and third-year club member, came to the club his sophomore year based on previous involvement in dairy tasting and evaluation with his local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter.

“When I found out Iowa State had something similar, I thought ‘I’ll go to one thing,’ and suddenly you’re going twice a week, eating dairy products,” Murrow said. “As a future Ag teacher, this will help me teach my students about dairy, which my teachers didn’t necessarily have the skillset to explain. I mean, I also get to eat free dairy products regularly so.”

With the annual competition back on schedule, other club members are excited to step into their chance to compete after spending, in some cases, over a year preparing. The DPEC is open to any and all who want to participate, with participation in the competition not mandatory. Members want all students to know that they do not have to be excellent tasters or have a background in dairy to be successful or have a great time in the club. Meetings for DPEC will continue in the fall.

From left: Dr. Stephanie Clark, Abbie Sesker, Karin Cho, Ethan Murrow, Pauline Scribano, Bailey Hauge, Julie Nutter, Claudia Arriaga

First place individual winners in each of the six product categories receive a $200 award, which was established by the DREF Board in 1993.