Carmen Licon-Cano, an experienced food engineer and dairy enthusiast, has joined Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences as the director of the Dairy Products Technology Center, overseeing the research and development of dairy products by Cal Poly students and faculty in partnership with industry professionals.
The Cal Poly Dairy Products Technology Center, located at the university’s dairy unit, offers research opportunities and short courses on developing dairy-related products for industry professionals. The center has active programs in research, outreach and training. The research program currently emphasizes cheese science and technology, dairy foods quality, dairy ingredients technology and novel process technologies. Students assist with research trials and are hired as assistants for the professional courses offered at the center throughout the year.
“The Dairy Products Technology Center is a place where you can innovate and think outside the box,” Licon-Cano said, “so I think research has to follow that trend and address the needs of the industry.”
Prior to joining Cal Poly, Licon-Cano was an assistant professor for six years in Fresno State University’s Food Science and Nutrition Department, teaching food product development. She earned a doctorate in agricultural sciences and engineering, specializing in dairy product development and aroma analysis, from the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain, and spent several years in in France for post-doctoral work.
Licon-Cano specializes in cheese making and the use of locally sourced ingredients. While at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, she received a patent for the development of an artisan cheese made from ewe’s milk and saffron.
Since relocating to California, she said, she’s discovered the magnitude of California’s dairy industry, which is the largest milk producer in the U.S. and leading producer of butter, ice cream and nonfat dry milk. The state is the second largest cheese producer, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the nation’s cheese production.
“This was a surprise for me, because outside of the United States, California is not recognized as the dairy state — and that has to change,” she said.
In 2019, Licon-Cano worked with the California Milk Advisory Board, Cal Poly, Fresno State and UC Davis to launch the California Dairy Innovation Center (CDIC) to stimulate innovation in the California dairy industry. The partnership, which united producers, processors and educators around a set of common goals, led to increased funding for student learning opportunities and product advancement, she said.
At Cal Poly, Licon-Cano plans to continue to focus on increased opportunities for students and industry members.
“I want to bring new energy and new opportunities for students and research — bringing continued innovation to the industry,” she said.