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The big (Hilmar) Cheese

Family-owned company grows to largest single-site processor in world

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The big (Hilmar) Cheese


POSTED May 26, 2012 1:32 a.m.

You can go to the grocery store anywhere in the United States and if you buy a dairy product, namely cheese, there is a one-in-five chance the product you buy came from the Hilmar Cheese Company.

The dairy manufacturing company, based in the small rural town of Hilmar in Merced County was founded in 1984 by a group of 12 Jersey cow dairy families. By 1996 the facility became the largest single-site cheese processor in the world. Nearly three decades after it began operation it remains a family-owned and operated company with second and even third generation executives and workers.

“We talked about where we were going and we thought we were going to be a small specialty cheese shop. We never dreamed that we would be so blessed,” said founding owner Delton Nyman.

Ironically, the original owners didn’t know much about the cheese making process. What they did know was based on research at the time, Jersey cows were the best cows for making cheese. One of the group’s first actions was to hire cheesemaker John Jeter, who is now the chief executive officer and president of Hilmar Cheese.

“They had the gumption, the idea, the thought — centered around the Jersey Cow that was valid — then they were willing to risk everything they had on that proposition,” explained Jeter.

Hilmar Cheese, and its business unit Hilmar Ingredients, is now sold in various forms in 40 countries. Products are made at two facilities, the home base in Hilmar and a facility in Dalhart, Texas, which opened in 2007.

Milk from 245 family-owned dairy farms is shipped to both facilities — 216 deliver to the Hilmar plant.

The production statistics are staggering. Each day 2.3 million pounds (more than 1,043 tons) of cheese is made, along with 130,000 pounds of whey protein and 350,000 pounds of lactose.

Through the production profits the company is able to boast perhaps its greatest accomplishments, the sustained support of the local communities of Hilmar and Turlock. Through education programs, annual scholarships, employee education assistance, active participation and donations to numerous area health and community improvement organizations, Hilmar Cheese is a company heavily based in active goodwill for the greater good.

Donnie Sherman, one the founding owners explained the company’s view. “We have family values that other corporations don’t have,” he said.

One of those values is a deep commitment to sustainable practices. All packaging materials produced at both plants are made from 100 percent recycled material and more than 60 percent of the water used at the plants is recycled. The water used is treated and recycled again out for irrigation at local family farms.

The future at Hilmar Cheese is bright at the original owners have begun inviting second and even third generations of family into their company.

“The future is very bright and there is no reason it won’t be — provided we don’t lose those core values of building relationships through integrity, through sharing the wealth and prosperity — to making our surroundings a better place than we found them and teaching the younger generations that come along to do the same thing,” said founding owner Bill Ahlem.

For more information on Hilmar Cheese visit



209 staff reporter


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