Aaron West, The Triplicate

Company will expand Crescent City facility to take on lactose production

Rumiano Cheese is expanding its business, but first the apartment complex next to the factory has to come down.

An excavator dug out huge chunks of the apartment building at 820 F St. on Monday, one of the early steps in a plan to launch the Crescent City cheese maker into the lactose business.

"That's a pretty good size," Rumiano Cheese owner Baird Rumiano said, watching the Caterpillar 325C hydraulic excavator as it prepared to demolish the apartment building on Monday. "More than enough."

The apartment building, which Rumiano Cheese purchased in 2011 with expansion in mind, stood on a lot that Rumiano has planned for a new addition to the factory - an 8,000-square-foot building that will hold the state-of-the-art equipment used to isolate lactose.

"It's going to be cutting edge," said Joby Rumiano, who works at the factory and played a major role in the expansion's planning, which was years in the making.

The lactose, which is currently being used for fertilizer, is isolated in a process that begins with milk, Kirk Olesen ofRumianoCheese said.

"We buy milk, and milk is about 88 percent water," Olesen explained.

"Then we make cheese out of it, and we end up with a product called whey."

Once the whey is pasteurized and the protein is removed - it goes into muscle milk, protein bars and "body builder stuff," according to Olesen - then the leftover milk-sugar is lactose.

"Lactose is the smallest of the sugars," Olesen said. "It's a sugar, but it's not a really sweet sugar. It's main use is in Europe, where they use it in pastries and confections and stuff. The other primary use is in infant formula."

Exactly how Rumiano's lactose will find its way to stores remains to be seen, Joby said, but it could involve an approach similar to what the company takes with whey, which it sells to a company that then turns it into a store-ready product.

The isolation process will require machinery like crystallizers and evaporators, some of it to be shipped from Europe, that Joby said the company bought with an eye toward sustainability.

"We're trying to become more sustainable," he said, "trying to utilize everything and create efficiencies with heat regeneration and water recovery. It's fascinating."

Reach Aaron West at awest@triplicate.com.