Our group of 15 met in the afternoon of July 11th for the second scheduled business tours for elected officials in Fulton County. Nikki Famiano, Finance Manager of Euphrates, the feta cheese manufacturing plant in the Johnstown Industrial Park, conducted our tour, with the assistance of Cheese Master, Harun Ovacik and Nancy Nellis.
We learned that Euphrates buys raw milk, which arrives via tanker truck in a special bay of their building. Deliveries are received Sunday through Wednesday or Thursday. The truck is washed down before the milk is unloaded and transferred into holding silos. The truck is then washed down again, inside and out. Once the milk is in the silo, it can only remain there for a maximum of 72 hours. There, it is temperature controlled and pasteurized so that it can become something much better – feta cheese.
Donning protective gear consisting of coats, hair nets, and optional booties, our tour group entered the main production area. The temperature here is around 90 degrees and is humid. If you like to be that warm, this is the place for you to work. We walked past stainless steel troughs that are filled with milk and then mixed with cultures and left to solidify into the first stage of feta cheese.
The cultured milk mixture could set up a quickly as 45 minutes or as long as 2 hours. Once it is ready, the solid curd is cut into small blocks with a wire rack, and then stirred to separate the white cheese from the yellow whey. One end of the trough lifts open to allow the contents to flow down a channel into empty block forms, which are waiting on a conveyor belt below. An employee spreads the mixture evenly into the multi-chambered block form before it continues down the assembly line. These forms are then stacked 6 high. The stacks are taken to a machine which clamps them together and turns them over 3 times to help remove whey from the cheese curd.
At this point, the small cubes of curd have been reformed into a larger block within the form. They still contain some whey so they are now removed from the block form and placed into a large box that contains brine. The newly created feta cheese will remain in the brine for 5 to 9 days. The salted water helps remove any remaining whey from the cheese and adds to its feta flavor.
It then moves on to the packaging room, which is notably cooler than the production facility. Here, feta cheese orders are referenced and the cheese is packaged accordingly. The cheese can be crumbled, cubed, sold in various sized blocks, or in buckets up to 5 pounds. Euphrates contracts with other companies, putting their product labels onto Euphrates’ feta cheese. So a great deal of information determines how each block of cheese is packaged. Once the packaging is complete, orders are placed into a large cooler where the temperature ranges from 35 to 45 degrees. Here it will wait until it is picked up by the purchaser.
Interestingly, while Euphrates feta cheese is shipped nationwide, Euphrates does not do the shipping. Purchasers are notified when their order is ready for pick up and it is their responsibility to come to the Johnstown manufacturing plant to pick-up their order. Before any product is loaded onto a refrigerated truck, Euphrates tests the temperature inside the empty trailer to make sure it is cool enough to receive the order.
Fast Facts about Euphrates:
- Annual Employee Count: 75-82
- Pounds of milk processed per year: 50,000,000
- Two of their milk silos hold 20,000 pounds of milk and another one holds 30,000 pounds of milk
- Euphrates manufactures 3-4 million pounds of feta cheese per year
- Euphrates is regularly audited by the FDA and routinely scores 97-100% during their assessment
- Every step of the cheese making process is documented – from the time that the milk arrives at the plant to the point that it leaves – every temperature change, additive, curing time, and packaging label are all recorded
- An onsite lab tests the ph level of the milk and maintains the quality and taste of the feta cheese
- Due to a shortage in storage, Euphrates recently purchased a neighboring building in the Johnstown Industrial Park: 190 Enterprise Road
On behalf of our tour group, I would like to thank the employees of Euphrates, especially our tour guides, Nikki, Nancy and Haran, for their hospitality. Euphrates is yet another example of a quality corporation, quietly working within our community that everyone should know more about. We were thrilled that they agreed to let us visit their facility. While I could not take pictures of the feta cheese making process, I did get a group photo after our tour. Note the smiles on everyone’s faces as they hold their gift bags. And now you have to excuse me as I close this post and look for feta recipes!
Written by CRG Executive Assistant, Becky Hatcher