USA 12.02.2024

Exploring Wisconsin's Cheese Industry: A Gouda Time to Know More

Source: The DairyNews
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If Wisconsin were a country, it would proudly stand as the fourth-largest cheese producer globally, showcasing the state's significant role in the dairy industry. In 2022 alone, Wisconsin contributed over 3.5 billion pounds of cheese, constituting a quarter of the entire nation's cheese production, according to a report from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Exploring Wisconsin's Cheese Industry: A Gouda Time to Know More
Variety in Cheese Production: A Wisconsin Tradition

Wisconsin's cheese production landscape is characterized by diversity, with an array of specialty cheeses leading the way. In 2022, the state led the nation in producing cheeses such as cheddar, Muenster, feta, Limburger, Parmesan, Romano, and provolone. Notably, mozzarella and similar styles accounted for almost one-third of the total cheese production, while American styles like Colby, Jack, and Monterey comprised another 30%.

Over the years, there has been a notable shift in the types of cheeses produced. In 1978, more than 65% of Wisconsin's cheeses were American varieties like Cheddar and Colby. However, by 2022, this percentage had decreased to 30%, with Italian varieties such as mozzarella and parmesan dominating at over 47%. This shift allows smaller farmers to carve a niche by producing higher-quality specialty cheeses.

Global Presence: Exporting Wisconsin Cheese Worldwide

While historically, most Wisconsin cheese stayed within the U.S., recent decades have seen a growing interest in international markets. Currently, Wisconsin exports 15% of its dairy output to over 140 countries, demonstrating the state's commitment to catering to global demand. Political support for dairy farmers to expand their export operations has increased, with a goal to raise Wisconsin's dairy, meat, and crop exports by 25% by June 2026.

In 2021, Schreiber Foods, based in Green Bay, received recognition as the U.S. Dairy Exporter of the year for exporting products to more than 55 countries in 2020.

The Cheese-Making Tradition: A Historical Perspective

Wisconsin's prominence in cheese-making can be traced back to early immigrants who brought their cheese-making traditions to the state. Swiss, Italian, French, German, and English immigrants contributed to the rich variety of cheeses produced. The practicality of cheese, with its longer shelf life compared to milk and butter, played a crucial role in the state's preference for cheese production.

By 1870, Wisconsin boasted 54 cheese factories, marking the beginning of a transition from farmstead production to factory-based operations. Today, despite challenges in the dairy industry, Wisconsin remains home to nearly 6,000 dairy farms and 1.28 million cows.

A Cheese Lover's Paradise: Exploring Local Options

Wisconsin, with almost 1,200 licensed cheesemakers producing over 600 types, styles, and varieties of cheese, is a paradise for cheese enthusiasts. Locals can easily access a variety of locally produced cheeses at grocery stores and specialty cheese shops. Some notable options include Larry's Market in Brown Deer, The Village Cheese Shop in Wauwatosa, West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe in Milwaukee, and Wisconsin Cheese Mart in Milwaukee, among others.

Whether you're a Wisconsinite or a cheese aficionado visiting the state, the rich cheese-making tradition of Wisconsin promises a delightful journey through a world of diverse and delicious cheeses.
Lee Mielke
Lee Mielke
editor of the Mielke Market Weekly
Dairy farm milk production continues to struggle and remained below a year ago for the seventh consecutive month.
Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith
Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California
Every five years, the Department of Agriculture takes a census of farms, all two million of them. The most recent census occurred in 2022, and USDA released the data this week.
February 2024
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