Tasty things are happening inside the University of Manitoba's Dairy Science building, but it's not something they advertise.

"This dairy at the University, most people don't even know it exists," said John Thoroski, the U of M's Dairy Manager. "But we've started this relationship with the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, and they've been putting out the word there that we can help out."

Oak Island Acres Goat Dairy

Feta in storage at Oak Island Acres Goat Dairy. (Mike Green)

​Thoroski and his team have helped foster successful artisanal dairy products in the plant, like Cornell Creme ice cream and Oak Island Acres Goat Dairy cheeses, which are produced in small batches at the University and sold in local markets.

It's a partnership whereby dairy farmers can take an idea and recipe from their own home and soon see it produced, packaged and ready for sale -- with the University guiding them along with research and development.  

"We can take thee recipe that they might make at the kitchen table, and we can scale it up... to something they can manufacture," said Thoroski. "Starting small and scaling up there are a lot of idiosyncrasies you have to watch out for that can cause problems. So we help them overcome those problems."   
The dairy farmer/University facility partnership is a result of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba Dairy Product Innovation Fund, which allocates $45 thousand annually (via investments that need not be paid back), to farmers who have a good game plan for making something with their Manitoban milk.

A successful applicant can be gifted up to $15,000 toward developing a new dairy product, while the funds don't have to be spent directly with the University.

"The innovation fund is fairly very new, its inception was only a year ago, and only in the last six months have we put some teeth around the policy," said Henry Holtmann, vice-chairman of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.

Past successful applicants have also used the Fund toward innovation, like bringing in specialty cheese makers from Europe to help create a formula with local milk.

"We've always had a good working relationship with the University... but we've learned in just the last two years that they've got some skill sets that they could teach to potential processors in Manitoba, so we try to link the two together," said Holtmann.


Cows ready to provide the milk for production of artisanal cheese and ice cream. (Mike Green)

The Innovation Fund is modelled on Quebec's, where dairy producers have found the kind of the support that has made their artisanal cheese scene the envy of Canada.

​Holtmann is hoping Manitoba can start to see similar results here.

"We all know what Quebec is like in having unique cheeses from unique areas. So we thought in some small portion we should do exactly the same and we started off with a little bit of a fund and a policy and we'll see where it grows."