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W. D. Saunders

Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station from 1890 to 1891, William Dabney "Buttermilk" Saunders was a pioneer of dairy science in Virginia. Professor Saunders' amazing and dedicated career at Virginia Tech spanned two centuries and 55 years.


From VT.EDU website... "The dairy building was named Saunders Hall in 1949 for William Dabney "Buttermilk" Saunders. He was director of the creamery from 1896 to 1911, a professor from 1896 to 1908 and from 1914 to 1922, and an Extension specialist from 1920 to 1945. A dairy industry pioneer, Saunders worked for Virginia Tech for more than 40 years, interrupted by serving as Virginia's first dairy and food commissioner. A tireless worker, he established a system for testing cattle for tuberculosis that virtually eliminated the disease in Virginia dairy cattle. During his tenure at Virginia Tech, Saunders invented a cheese that sold "like wildfire," according to Ellison Smyth Jr. (EE, 1922) in his book, Retrospect. Saunders would go around town with a lump of cheese in his pocket, periodically peeling off the outer layer with a knife and offering a piece of cheese to whomever might be in his vicinity. Saunders died in 1955."


Other history indicates that Professor Saunders developed a special formula that enabled cheese to be produced in mass. According to his granddaughter, Mrs. Betsy Hulvey, the cheese was a sharp cheddar variety, known as a "rat cheese." That variety can still be found throughout Virginia today. It is quite common to see "rat cheese" cut into small portions from a large wheel and offered for sale at local roadside stores and fruit markets. Betsy's grandfather donated the patent for the cheese to Virginia Tech. The university eventually sold the patent to Kraft. In Montgomery County Virginia, the Luster's Gate Cheese Factory used this formula in its operation. Professor Saunders was instrumental in starting this operation.

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