PULLMAN, Wash. – Mary Lauver, a scientific assistant for Washington State University’s Crop and Soil Sciences, started buying Cougar Gold cheese more than 20 years ago, shortly after moving to the Palouse. Her father read an article in Gourmet Magazine and called her asking about it. She found out she could purchase the cheese at Ferdinand’s on the Pullman campus and sent him a can.
This turned into a yearly shipment until her father’s death 15 years later.
“He lived for that cheese, and it was (reluctantly) shared with family at the holidays,” Lauver said.
Making a border run
Cougar cheese ages in a temperature-controlled
warehouse for about one year before being sold.
Especially during this time of year, the WSU Creamery ships Cougar cheese all over the United States and to military bases abroad, said David Dean, the creamery’s direct marketing department supervisor. One recent shipping pallet contained boxes addressed to recipients in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, at least six other states and Afghanistan.
The creamery does not ship internationally (except military addresses) due to differing country-specific regulations and tariffs, he said.
It used to be possible to ship to Canada, said Russ Salvadalena, manager of the WSU Creamery, but the additional fees were difficult to predict and some customers sent the cheese back rather than paying.
“A lot of Canadians will have it shipped to a border town, either to a P.O. Box or to someone they know there who will get it,” Dean said.
A company in Ontario uses Cougar cheese as corporate Christmas gifts and has the creamery ship the cheese to upstate New York, where the company crosses the border to pick it up.
About one-third of Cougar cheese sales are to western Washington, he said, and about another third to very populated states on the East Coast, such as Florida and New York. About 17 to 20 percent of sales are to California customers.
Holiday staff 10 times larger
A warehouse worker labels boxes
of Cougar cheese before sending.
The busiest time of year for the direct marketing (orders and shipping) department is right after Thanksgiving through the last day cheese can be sent and still arrive by Christmas, said Brandi Ellison, packing warehouse supervisor.
Currently, there are nine full-time workers and one student in the packing warehouse. During most of the year, only a couple of students work part time in the warehouse, she said.
“There are certain days out of the year where, if we had 100 people, it wouldn’t be enough because customers always call in at the same time,” Dean said.
Several orders the department processes come from celebrities, Ellison said.
“We always get excited when we get them,” she said, “saying, ‘No, I want to pack it! It’s my turn!’”
Maureen Evermann, assistant to the director of the WSU Pullman WWAMI Medical Education Program, said she and her family take Cougar cheese with them wherever they travel. Combining the cheese with a bottle of (Cougar) Crimson wine from Pullman’s Merry Cellars is the perfect gift for any occasion, she said.
While traveling to visit her son in Baltimore in November 2011, she was stopped at airport security because she had a can of Cougar Gold cheese in her carry-on luggage. The agent recognized the can as it was going through screening – without opening the bag.
Evermann asked the agent how he knew it was Cougar Gold cheese without looking. He said there was so much of the cheese coming through the airport around the holidays that he knew it couldn’t be anything else.