Finalists Compete for $30,000 in International Pizza Contest

Top Pizza Chefs Showcase Innovative Recipes Using Real California Cheese

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) today announced finalists in the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest (RCPC) – a search for the best recipes using Real California Cheese. The contest, in its second year, will award prize money totaling $30,000 for the most innovative use of cow’s milk cheeses from California in three categories.

Professional chefs and culinary students from 24 states submitted recipes between May 22 and July 17, 2020. Entries were blind-evaluated by a panel of three pizza professionals – Glenn Cybulski, certified pizzaiolo and award-winning executive chef; Thomas Garnick, founder of Brava! Pizzeria and 2019 RCPC Grand Prize Winner; and Mark Todd, culinary expert and foodservice/retail cheese educator. 

This year’s contest features the best pizza recipes from the United States and Mexico with the winner of the “Campeonato Mexicano de la Pizza”, sponsored by the CMAB in late 2019, earning a guaranteed spot as a finalist in the bakeoff. The international expansion of the contest displays the broad appeal and application of California dairy at foodservice outside of the United States. 

After careful evaluation of pizza names, inspiration, recipe and use of ingredients, eleven individuals have been selected as finalists in three respective categories: Cal-Mex, The REAL California, and Plant-Forward.


“Pizza has global appeal and offers a blank canvas for expression. We are inspired by the creativity and innovation that went into these recipes, which represent a spectrum of ingredients and flavor combinations all brought together with California cheese” said Mike Gallagher, Business and Market Development Consultant for the CMAB.  “We are also thrilled that we have such a diverse breadth of geographic representation in the finalist group and are looking forward to seeing them in action.”

The virtual bakeoff takes place on October 10, 2020, at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Calif., where pizzas will be prepared and baked onsite for a blind evaluation by judges. Category winners will receive $5,000 and the Grand Prize Winner, selected from all category winners, will receive an additional $10,000. All remaining finalists will receive $500 each.

Following are the finalists in the 2020 Real California Pizza Contest:


  • Linda Ortega, a professional chef from Watsonville, Calif., is the owner of Fired Up Fresh. Her entry, Al Pastor, is a tribute to her husband’s Mexican heritage and features fresh Cotija alongside marinated pork adobo and California Chili Sauce.
  • Jordan Lawson, is a professional chef from Bellingham, Wash., where he works at La Fiamma Wood-Fire Pizza. His entry, Chile Relleno Pizza, utilizes rich Queso Quesadilla and Crema Mexicana to tastefully balance green tomatillo salsa and roasted poblanos.
  • Buffy Wimmer, a professional chef from McKinney, Texas, is the owner of Jersey Pies. Her entry, Pizza Taco de Callejero, is a street taco-inspired pizza highlighted by the delicious combination of four Hispanic-style California cheeses paired with carne asada and zesty mango salsa. Buffy competed in the 2019 RCPC finals.
  • Lars Smith, a professional chef from Palo Alto, Calif., is the owner of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria. His entry, Elotero, combines Queso Oaxaca and Cotija with tender guajillo braised pork shoulder and corn Requeson to honor those who make and sell Mexican street corn. Lars was also selected as a finalist in the Plant-Forward category. He was a 2019 RCPC finalist as well.


The REAL California

  • Efren Ríos, a professional chef from Mexico City, works at Bottega Napule. His entry, Bronte, provides an original interpretation of California cuisine through fresh yellow tomatoes, eggplant, pistachios, and basil on top of rich California Provolone.
  • Justin Wadstein, a professional chef from Santa Cruz, Calif., is the owner of Sleight of Hand Pizza. His entry, Cali Crab, blends two California favorites – Dungeness crab and pesto – with fresh Mozzarella and Triple Crème.
  • Phillip Ma, a professional chef from San Francisco, Calif, is the owner of Dough. His entry, Szechuan Pizza, incorporates his Chinese heritage into a delicious interpretation of a California fusion pizza highlighted by fresh Mozzarella and Szechuan Chili.
  • Ricky Webster, is a professional chef from Spokane, Wash. who works at SYSCO Spokane. His entry, The Wharf, combines a sourdough crust and fresh clams with rich crème fraîche and Mozzarella for a delicious ode to San Francisco’s landmark Fisherman’s Wharf. Ricky was another 2019 RCPC finalist.



  • Domenica Catelli, a professional chef from Geyserville, Calif., is the owner of Catelli’s. Her entry, The New “Old School”, pairs cauliflower crust and plant-based sausage with fresh Burrata and Smoked Mozzarella for an inventive twist on a classic recipe.
  • Anisha Blodgett, a professional chef from San Diego, Calif., is the owner of Powerhaus Wholesome Pizza & Eats. Her entry, Roasted Mushrooms Pizza on High-Protein Whole-Grain Crust, features fresh mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and arugula on top of delicious Mozzarella and creamy Ricotta.
  • Joe Mialki, a professional chef from Port Orange, Florida, is the co-owner of Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza. His entry, The Shelly, tastefully incorporates spinach, mushrooms, and mini tomatoes alongside a pistachio pesto sauce and fresh Mozzarella.
  • Lars Smith, a professional chef from Palo Alto, Calif., is the owner of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria. His entry, Fire on the Mountain, relies on Queso Oaxaca and rich Mexican Crema to form a rich foundation for plant-based chorizo, Fresno peppers, and roasted cauliflower. Lars was also selected as a finalist in the Cal-Mex category.

About Real California Milk/the California Milk Advisory Board
The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), an instrumentality of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is funded by the state’s dairy families and is one of the largest agricultural marketing boards in the United States. With a mission to increase demand for products made with Real California Milk, the CMAB is celebrating 50 years in 2019 of promoting California’s sustainable dairy products in the state, across the U.S. and around the world through advertising, public relations, research, and retail and foodservice promotional programs. 

The Foodservice Division of the CMAB supports foodservice operators and distributors that use Real California dairy products. The CMAB offers marketing and promotional support for foodservice operators that purchase dairy products with the Real California Milk seal, which means they are made with 100 percent milk from California’s more than 1,200 family dairy farms.

2020-08-19T08:01:27-07:00August 19th, 2020|

Karoun Dairies Get’s Top Honors

Karoun Dairies, Iconic Hand-Braided String Cheese Wins World Championship

The first cheese made by Turlock based – Karoun Dairies, the iconic Hand-braided String Cheese, was awarded 1st Place in the String Cheese, Flavored Category at World Championship Cheese Contest 2020. Dairy experts from around the world gathered at the Monona Terrace in Madison Wisconsin, judging a record-breaking 3,600 cheese, yogurts, butters and other dairy products from 26 countries.

Karoun Marinated String Cheese, the company’s original, classic-style String, marinated to perfection with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and herbs, was one of 16 entries for String Cheese, Flavored and scored an impressive 99.70 Best of Class. The Karoun Cheese line of handcrafted braided string cheeses are made with Real California Fresh Milk.

“We are thrilled that our first product category, released over 25 years ago, has won gold in this distinguished competition,” said Rostom Baghdassarian, CEO at Karoun Dairies. “We’re honored that our other cheeses also placed high in their categories, but the win for our string cheese, which is still braided by hand to this day, is especially appreciated. We work tirelessly to make sure that the solid reputation of Karoun delivers for our loyal customers across the country.”

“It is such a competitive contest that you’re really looking for even the most minor defects,” said judge Chad Caler. “You’re looking at the packaging, the surface–is the color even? And then, of course, the flavor everyone cares about, and the texture.”

The 2020 judging team consists of 55 experienced cheese graders, cheese buyers, dairy science professors, and researchers hailing from 19 nations and 14 American states.

About Karoun Dairies

Founded in 1992, Karoun is a family-owned manufacturer, distributor and marketer of specialty-branded, ethnic food and beverage products, including cheeses, yogurts, yogurt beverages, spreads and dips. Through a diverse base of retailers and distribution channels, the Company’s products appeal to the fast-growing multicultural population, as well as to mainstream consumers who are increasingly adopting ethnic cuisines.

Winners of over 170 best-in-class awards, Karoun’s high-quality, branded products have a loyal following around the world. The Company is strategically located in the dairy-rich state of California, with a distribution center in San Fernando and a manufacturing plant in Turlock.

Karoun still maintains their original network of local, artisan merchants, but now also has distribution through nationwide and international mainstream retailers. Karoun cheeses and yogurts are made with Real California Milk from cows free of growth hormones.

Specialty brands include Karoun Mediterranean, Arz, Queso Del Valle, Gopi and Yanni. For more information, please visit and


2020-03-13T21:08:07-07:00March 16th, 2020|

Four Students Selected to Represent Real California Milk in Asia, Mexico

Student Ambassadors Share California Dairy Message with International Audiences 

News Release

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has selected four students to serve as interns in the second year of the international dairy leadership program. Jessica Brown, Stefani Christieson, KayCee Hartwig-Dittman and Makayla Toste will serve as dairy representatives, working with marketing teams representing CMAB during the summer in Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan.

The interns, selected from students enrolled in agriculture-related programs at colleges and universities throughout the state, were chosen based on academic achievement, connection to the dairy industry, and a willingness to travel abroad and learn more about international dairy sales and marketing as well as a plan to work in the California dairy industry in the future.dairy cattle

Over the six-week period, each intern will spend time with in-country CMAB marketing organizations—Brown in Taiwan, Christieson and Hartwig-Dittman in South Korea and Toste in Mexico—to gain a better understanding of these markets, consumer buying habits, and promotional efforts on behalf of California’s dairy industry.

Brown is currently enrolled at Fresno State, majoring in agriculture business. She was raised on her family’s vineyard in Tracy and has always had a passion for agriculture. Her desire to learn about agriculture outside of the U.S. has provided her with opportunities to study abroad, most recently in Spain. Because of her love of travel and learning about other cultures, Jessica is focusing on international marketing at college, with plans to work in this field of study upon graduation in 2020. Brown is a member of the agriculture marketing team at Fresno State and will be working with Steven Chu and Associates in Taipei, Taiwan.

Christieson is a recent graduate of the UC Davis, where she received her B.S. in Political Science and minors in economics and French. She will be attending graduate school in the fall at Sciences Po in Paris, France, for a year and then will complete the program at Fudan University in Shanghai, China in year two. Christieson plans to complete her master’s degree in international economic policy and pursue a career as agriculture economic policy advisor for an agriculture export market organization to help California farmers continue to expand into emerging and established markets overseas. Christieson will be working with Sohn’s Market Makers, Ltd. in S. Korea.

Hartwig-Dittman is currently enrolled at Fresno State, where she is majoring in dairy science and is employed at the dairy unit on campus. She has a culinary arts degree from Diablo Valley Community College and has experience working in the restaurant industry in California. Her love of travel and food has allowed her to travel outside of the U.S., where she has learned to use dairy products in new and creative ways with hopes to find innovative ways to introduce dairy to consumers around the world. Hartwig-Dittman will also be working with Sohn’s Market Makers, Ltd. in South Korea.

 Toste, a second-generation dairy farmer from Newman, received her B.S. degree in Animal Science with an emphasis in dairy science. During her last year at Fresno State, Toste served as the assistant herdsman for the Fresno State dairy unit, where she was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the dairy and an officer for the Fresno State Dairy Club. After the internship, she plans to work in the California dairy industry in promotion and marketing to help keep the industry viable for the next generation of farmers. Toste will serve as an intern with the team at Imalinx in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

“California accounts for more than 33 percent of all U.S. dairy exports so international trade is essential for our continued growth. Over the last decade, the CMAB has worked closely with partners in Asia and Mexico to develop markets for California dairy products. This program is focused on providing insight into international dairy marketing for future leaders like Jessica, Stefani, KayCee, and Makayla, who will work in the dairy business and one day serve on dairy industry boards and lead industry groups,” said Glenn Millar, Director of International Business Development for the CMAB.

The goal of the CMAB International Internship program is to provide agriculture/dairy college students an opportunity to learn about dairy foods and marketing in the international marketplace. The program looks to develop leaders who will serve on dairy industry boards and work in dairy foods production, processing, or sales/marketing.

2021-05-12T11:17:08-07:00July 12th, 2019|

Real California Dairy Stories Told

California Milk Advisory Board Rolls Out New Social Media Series

By Aiden Glaspey, Editorial Intern

The California Milk Advisory Board, based in Tracy, recently released a new social media series called Real California Dairy Stories. California Ag Today spoke to Jennifer Giambroni, the director of communications with the California Milk Advisory Board, about the project.

“It’s a series of short, analyzed videos with our dairy families because when we talk to consumers, it’s really sharing the story, not just about the food, but about the families. So it’s all about returning to real. Real foods from real families, kissed by the California sun.”

Giambroni said the dairy food story is easy to tell.

“Obviously everyone loves dairy products. They love dairy foods. But we really want to get to know the farmers behind the seal. Why do you care if you buy that Real California Milk product? It’s because you’re supporting actual dairy families.”

“So Real California Dairy Stories goes into the field with our California Dairy Families, and just tells little ‘moment in time’ stories. We just launched this on our social media platforms. They’re all on our YouTube channel at Real California Milk,” Giambroni said.

And another place to view those unique videos is at the website.

2017-09-02T23:11:57-07:00September 1st, 2017|

California Depends on National Dairy Month

National Dairy Month Encourages Americans to Eat More Cheese

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Across the country, National Dairy Month will be celebrated during the month of June to promote the consumption of dairy products. Though California is the number one dairy state, California dairy farmers have been experiencing a decline in dairy production amidst high labor costs, competition from other states and declining profit.

Founded in 1937 as National Milk Month with the goal of increasing milk consumption to stabilize the dairy surplusthe holiday was renamed National Dairy Month to encompass all dairy products.

Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairymen

Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairymen

Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairymen in Modesto, Calif., is hopeful that celebrating National Milk Month will educate more consumers about the health benefits of diary products, increase dairy consumption opportunities, open more markets and enable the lagging dairy industry in California to better compete with other states.

States such as South Dakota and Wisconsin have ramped up their milk production significantly, which has stressed California producers to even the gap. According to Raudabaugh, the term oversupply doesn’t necessarily apply to the dairy conditions in this state. She remarked, “We’re actually in a 17-month decline at the moment, which is the longest decline [in milk production] we have ever been in.”

The dairy industry has managed to be very competitive with wages, another stressor, but the high labor costs are hurting production companies. “As things get more and more competitive globally,” said Raudaubaugh, “we are going to continue to struggle to figure out how those margins play out.”

“The margin is going to continue to shrink, especially as wages get more and more competitive,” Raudaubaugh observed. “Being a worker on a dairy farm is certainly very wage-competitive throughout the agricultural industry. We cannot keep workers at anything less than about $16 or $15 an hour as it is, so it’s a good time to be a worker in the dairy industry. It’s a good craft and skill to have if you become a milker.”Real California Cheese Logo

Given Western United Dairymen’s mission to promote and administer programs and policies aimed at maintaining the longevity of the dairy industry on the West Coast, and as the milk industry struggles and continues to face tough times, Raudabaugh has a solution: “Eat more cheese.”

Enter: National Cheese Day every June 4! According to the California Milk Advisory Board website and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) 2014 data, California is the #2 cheese producing state—right behind Wisconsin—and the #1 producer of Monterey Jack cheese. An amazing 43% of California’s cow’s milk is used to make California cheese, which is produced by more than 50 California cheesemakers.

Even beyond cheese, Raudabaugh said, “There is a tremendous amount of diversity in the way people have exposure to dairy products they don’t even know about. There are yogurts and sour creams, ice creams, and whey products.”  She believes market sectors should understand more about the dairy products consumers are exposed to every day to increase not only more milk consumption, but higher-value dairy as well.

“The diversification of the product line is really what has kept us in business,” reflects Raudabaugh, “It’s what keeps us looking to the horizon and looking to the future optimistically, even in the face of some pretty bad milk prices right now.”

Remember California dairy producers, particularly, this monthNational Dairy Month, and try a new dairy product. And discover a new cheese tomorrow, June 4, National Cheese Day!

2021-05-12T11:17:13-07:00June 3rd, 2016|
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