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Cheese plant clears planners

Fiscalini Cheese Co.'s expansion won approval Thursday night from the Stanislaus County Planning Commission, which praised it as the kind of venture that fits in well amid farmland.

The commission also discussed overall county policy on what should be built in rural areas. This policy — in the proposed update to the agricultural element of the county general plan — had not come to a vote by press time.

Fiscalini, which makes award-winning cheese on Kiernan Avenue at Jackson Road west of Salida, plans to expand its plant nearly tenfold to 81,800 square feet and builda visitors center. Supporters said it fits with the county's goal of getting more value out of raw farm products.

"This is exactly what we need to be doing with the ag element," Commissioner Allen Layman said just before the 8-0 vote.

The decision is final unless appealed to the Board of Supervisors by April 16.

Fiscalini carries the "farmstead" label, meaning the milk for making the cheese comes from cows on the same property. Owner John Fiscalini said only 10 percent of his herd's milk goes into the current plant, but the expansion will allow that to rise to 100 percent over several years.

The visitors center will have a cheese store, a demonstration kitchen and displays about the cheesemaking process. Plant tours will be available.

The plan also won praise from Modesto attorney Armando Flores, who said he often bicycles past the site: "Mr. Fiscalini's operations are innovative and known both nationally and internationally, and they set a wonderful example for other dairies and similar industries."

The project's waste-water disposal plan needs approval from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. An anonymous neighbor raised concern about pollution controls in a voice mail to the Planning Department.

The ag element, enacted in 1992, lays out ways to shield farmland from population growth, protect water and other resources, and encourage rural ventures such as produce stands, nut hullers and wineries.

The proposed update's most-debated section would clamp down on ranchettes — rural homesites that can fragment farmland.

The Board of Supervisors could make a decision on the update April 17, based in part on the commission's recommendations.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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