Clemson’s Dairy Product Evaluation team is milking their win by landing future job opportunities

By Marie Hegler and Johnny McGregor
Photography by University Photographers

Clemson has claimed yet another National Championship title.

With the football team clinching the 2016 and 2018 national championships and the men’s soccer team most recently capturing the 2021 National Championship, the torch has been passed to Clemson’s Dairy Product Evaluation team. Five fearless, lactose-embracing Clemson students from the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences were able to taste and expectorate their way to victory on April 13 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they dominated the perennial powers of the University of Tennessee and South Dakota State.

“Over the years we’ve always come so close, just to be barely beaten out for first place,” commented Coach Sara Cothran, former competitor and current FNPS faculty member. “This year was finally our year.”

While most have heard of college football’s Orange Bowl or basketball’s March Madness, few have heard of and even fewer have competed in the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest, where teams from across the nation compete in taste-testing. The goal is to correctly identify various attributes among samples within six different dairy product categories: milk, yogurt, butter, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese and ice cream.

Have you ever tasted an “oxidized” milk or a “lacks fine flavor” ice cream? Have you ever seen a “ropey” yogurt or a “gassy” cheese? The odds are that you most certainly have, but these minute details often go unnoticed to the untrained eye and palate. Yet for Clemson’s Dairy Product Evaluation team, the difference between a “cooked” milk and a “malty” milk means the difference between first and second place — and all the bragging rights that come with it.

While college teams and individual winners are named for each of the dairy product categories, the most prestigious award goes to the team and individual who win the All Products honors, which is the accumulation of scores across all dairy product categories. The Clemson team took home the much-sought-after All Products award as well as first place in Yogurt. They also received second place in both Cottage Cheese and Milk in addition to third place in Butter.

While most have heard of college football’s Orange Bowl or basketball’s March Madness, few have heard of and even fewer have competed in the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest, where teams from across the nation compete in taste-testing.

Former longtime head coach Johnny McGregor, who stepped down last year to make way for Cothran’s innovative taste-testing philosophy, was thrilled upon hearing the results, exclaiming, “We did it! We finally did it! This team has been years in the making, even waiting out a pandemic, to compete.” Over the past 20 years, McGregor has led the team to over 15 top-three finishes. Yet, he has never quite been able to secure the top prize.

“I knew the team would be in good hands with Cothran as their coach,” he said. “She’s trained with me for years, developing a keen sense of what really hones and intensifies the palates of our students.” According to Cothran, countless hours of tasting and analyzing dairy products in the grueling morning hours is what separates these national champs from the rest of the competition.

“Nothing hits quite like a ‘high salt’ cottage cheese at 9 o’clock in the morning,” said Clemson’s Frances Schueren, the individual All Products winner and Milk Judging Champion of the competition. Schueren, originally from Pennsylvania, was heavily recruited by both Clemson and Penn State, whose acclaimed Peachy Paterno ice cream ranks second behind Clemson’s world-famous ice cream, according to the latest rankings from College Magazine.

When asked about the team’s greatest strengths, Cothran said, “We’ve always been strongest in ice cream since most of the team works at the ’55 Exchange.”

In addition to coaching and teaching, Cothran also serves as the faculty adviser for the ’55 Exchange, a student-run business enterprise that designs, manufactures, sells and serves Clemson’s world-famous ice cream, shakes, coffee chillers, cold brew coffee, smoothies and other Clemson products, like blue cheese and T-shirts. The ’55 Exchange helps fund the team’s travel and training expenses.

What does this all mean for the future of these elite tasters? Katie Hannahs, whose consistency across all products helped solidify the big win, is the production manager for the ’55 Exchange and will take her senior leadership skills with her to Kansas, where she has been drafted by the Schwan’s Company in the frozen pizza division. Reese Kauffman spent last fall interning with the Campbell Soup Company under the mentorship of two Clemson alumni, Katie Worley and Judith Trevino Isenberg, a nationally ranked taster during her time at Clemson. Kauffman will be finishing up his final semester at Clemson this fall while negotiating offers from major food companies. Reagan Ross, who anchored the team’s effort and is the director of quality for the ’55 Exchange, will be entering graduate school to work on a master’s degree in food anthropology. Team captain Frances Schueren, who spent a summer biking across the country to raise money for affordable housing grants through a nonprofit organization called Bike & Build, has been recruited by the nonprofit Mill Village Ministries in Greenville, South Carolina.

Redshirt alternate Ian Smith, a rising senior from Chicago, is expected to lead next year’s team. Clemson may need to look at securing some top NIL deals in an effort to keep him from entering the transfer portal. While they’re at it, they may also want to look at drafting a 10-year contract with a signing bonus for Coach Cothran. The future has never tasted so good for Clemson University’s Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences.

> To support the students, you can visit the ’55 Exchange store on campus or place an order to have Clemson Ice Cream shipped to your front door. For more information, visit clemson.edu/icecream.

Marie Hegler and Johnny McGregor are faculty members in the Department of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences.

28 replies
  1. Dr. Aubrey Coffee says:

    Congratulations to the Team! A Job well done and I am in agreement with Dr. McGregor – I echo all of his comments!!

    Dr. Coffee

    Reply
  2. Patricia Whitener says:

    Congratulations! So proud of these students and their accomplishment.
    I lift my glass of chocolate milk in a toast!

    Reply
  3. Raymond L Sheedy says:

    Congrats for adding another National Championship to the list! That’s why we stop in every time we’re in Tiger Town!

    Reply
  4. Jon Rogers PhD says:

    CONGRATULATIONS to the tasting and evaluation team! NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, WOW ! I ways on the team in 1964! We competed in the ACC competition in MD. I am so proud to hear of your SUCCESS, it’s been a long time in coming! Keep up the great job !

    Reply
  5. Mike Haye says:

    Congratulations on your great work and dedication to your craft! So proud of each of you and bringing honor to Clemson!

    Reply
  6. Joey Erwin says:

    Congratulations, guys! I’ve never been a huge sports aficionado, but I go all in for some dairy! Now where can I get a t-shirt commemorating this national title? Seriously, I need this.

    Reply
    • Johnny McGregor says:

      I love this idea! We will work on it with the hope of having them available for purchase online and in the 55 Exchange ice cream shop before the fall starts. Check the 55 Exchange website later this summer for an announcement!

      Reply
  7. Jessica Kearse says:

    Congratulations on the title! Proud of you guys and happy that the ‘55 continues to thrive!

    -Scoops
    Founding Staff, ‘55 Exchange

    Reply
  8. Charles E Schuster says:

    In 1972 National Dairy Products Collegiate
    Contest held in Atlantic City , New Jersey
    Clemson came in First in Milk Testing Portion
    Of Contest Our Coach Late J J Jansen
    And the three(3) Clemson Student
    Judges were Al Black, Gene Lucas and Charles Schuster

    Reply
  9. Stephanie Suhoza says:

    2013 contest in Chicago-CI trip to Kansas City to Danisco/Dupont- currently Principal Product Development Scientist for PepsiCo! Way to
    Go Tigers!!

    Reply
  10. Lauren Renee Brewer says:

    Congratulations! Go Tigers! I was on the team in 2006 and won 3rd and 5th place (individual and team). Served on the team with Judith : ) Dr McGregor must be a fabulous coach with all these wins!

    Reply
  11. Hunter Clayton says:

    This is so awesome!! Would expect nothing less of a team led by such amazing mentors. Fellow ‘55 Exchanger 2016-2018 and CI team member for the one and only, Johnny McGregor, who willingly agreed to take us to Expo West in LA. Wouldn’t be where I am now without Clemson! Currently the R&D Manager at Cosmic Bliss ice cream 🙂

    Reply
  12. Ben Whittington says:

    Way to go Food Science Tigers!!!

    While I wasn’t on any of the dairy judging teams, I feel like I’ve tasted enough ’55 Exchange ice cream during my time working at the ’55 as a store manager and production lead (’09-’12) as well as being on the CI team (favorite trip will aways be Miami) to say that yall do some incredible work!!

    Proud Clemson Food Science and ’55 Excange alum!!

    Reply
  13. Gabrielle Gunter says:

    Go Tigers! So awesome to see the team win. I was able to see the team at their table with the trophies at this years cheese conference. It was great to see the Tigers take home 1st!

    I was on the 2013 team in Chicago. We lost a tie breaker for 1st and ended up 2nd that year. I won 1st in the butter category. Currently: Technical Manager – Cheese at Hilmar Cheese Company.

    Reply
  14. Dr. Coffee says:

    Member of Dr. McGregor’s Team 2001-2003, Grad Student. I believe the second competition (Phoneix) I won in the Graduate Division ( brought a trophy back to Campus :)). During my judging experience, I realized I was lactose intolerance and spent time in the bathroom after the first competition (Kraft) but was prepared for the second one. Best trip with McGregor (and my Advisor) was after the Phoenix competition, when we drove to the Grand Canyon via Sedona, AZ.

    Reply
  15. Judith Trevino Isenberg says:

    Amazing job!!! Congratulations team!!! I participated in all things dairy while I was at Clemson for undergrad and grad school 2003-2009 (ice cream production, 55 Exchange and dairy judging). I currently work at Campbell Soup Company in product development. Go Tigers!

    Reply
  16. Johnny McGregor says:

    I participated in the 1980 contest that was held in Portland, Oregon and Dr. Janzen was our coach. My best product was strawberry yogurt and it was the first year that it was included in the contest. Traveling with Clemson students is SO MUCH FUN! So many awesome trips over the years but my favorite one was probably the trip to Miami to attend the NASCAR Race. The students had worked with Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 car on using food ingredients to develop a non-petroleum based adhesive to improve pit stop performance. I have been working as a professor at Clemson for over 23 years now!

    Reply
  17. Amy Haile Clarke says:

    Congratulations on a well deserved win to team and coach! Thank you Dr. McGregor and Sara for the many years you have pored into countless students and the love and dedication to keep Clemson Ice Cream the wonderful thing it is 🙂 I worked at the 55 Exchange for 4 years and participated in the 2015 dairy competition in Chicago. Dr McGregor was our fearless leader and coach, and our team included Sam Lopane, Paige Lindqiust, and Kinsey MacDonald. I won the first place in the graduate division for Butter tasting. I have worked in product development for 7 years, and currently work at Mars Petcare.

    Reply
  18. JoAnna Gorcesky LaRose says:

    Dairy judging 2011-2013 and placed first in milk at the Springfield, MO competition as a graduate student! ‘55 Exchange 2009-2013. Favorite Clemson trip was Miami NASCAR race but having McGregor drive me all over Chicago to find pierogis gets honorable mention for sure. Worked in food service R&D and food safety roles after grad school and currently working in technical sales. GO TIGERS!

    Reply
  19. Eric Toglia says:

    Congrats to everyone involved in this National Championship, well done on a great accomplishment, gotta love another title for the Tigers! While I never participated in the dairy judging contest, I did have classes with Dr. McGregor, worked on multiple CI teams led by him, and also worked at the ’55 Exchange for some time, all from 2007-2011. The best CI trip by far had to be the Miami NASCAR race! I currently work at DSM as an application expert for food & beverage. Go Tigers!!

    Reply
  20. Katie Queen Rountree says:

    Congratulations to the team this year! Way to go, Tigers!

    During my time at Clemson from 2007-2012, I worked at the ’55 Exchange, made ice cream in production, and was on the dairy tasting team. My favorite memories include the Miami NASCAR trip in 2011, the dairy tasting contest out in Las Vegas in 2008, and the photo shoot for a dairy industry magazine in the back of Dr. McGregor’s truck in front of the old red barn, drinking milk out of wine glasses after Sara Stancil Cothran, Jason Raines, and I won a contest with the Dairy Research Institute. Currently, I’m a Senior Applications Scientist at DDW, The Color House – part of Givaudan in Louisville, KY, focusing on color solutions for pet food, bakery, snacks, and cereals.

    Reply
  21. Kelly Polte says:

    Congrats on the win!! Go tigers!!! I worked at the ’55 Exchange the summer of 2018 when we held the first ever Maker’s Day for the surrounding community members and was a part of Dr. McGregor’s CI. While we didn’t take a trip, the highlight was creating an ice cream personality app that was designed to help track consumer flavor trends and competing in the Cultivate CAFLS competition. I am currently an application scientist at DDW, The Color House (Part of Givaudan) where I work with fellow ’55 exchange alum, Katie Rountree 🙂

    Reply
  22. Heather McIntyre says:

    Congrats! I have such amazing memories from my time (2002-2007) making ice cream and opening the 55 Exchange! Our dairy judging teams weren’t too shabby either!

    I’m now in the quality team at Mondelez making sure our cookies and crackers are safe and tasty.

    Reply

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