Wisconsin is the big cheese

The state's claim to fame is cheese
Wisconsin is the big cheese
Wisconsin Cheese

You know it. We know it. And so does the rest of the America – and not just because the fans of our state’s favorite professional football team happily stick oversized foam wedges on their heads every Sunday.

Wisconsin’s claim to fame is cheese, in all its ooey gooey, crumbly and cave-aged forms.

And yes, our proof is significantly more tangible than fans sporting cheese-heads. Consider the stats: According to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, or DFW, more than 1,200 licensed cheesemakers ply their craft in Wisconsin, which is the only state to require a cheesemaker to be licensed if they want to sell their cheese. We’re home to international cheese powerhouses like Emmi Roth USA, the best-of-show winner of the 2016 World Cheese Championships, and Sartori, the purveyors of essential premium cheese brands like SarVecchio and BellaVitano. We have Uplands Cheese Co., the Dodgeville-based cheesemaker best known for its Alpine-style Pleasant Ridge Reserve. We’re also the only state to host a rigorous, nearly three-year Master Cheesemaker program – a program you can’t even get into until you’ve been a licensed cheesemaker for a full decade – and 66 of those master cheesemakers are based right here. Internationally, Wisconsin doesn’t just hold its own — it’s a key player. If Wisconsin were a country, it would rank fourth in world cheese production, behind the U.S., Germany and France.

Want more? Our fine state creates a whopping 48 percent of the specialty cheese produced in America, and a little more than one in every four pounds of cheese comes from the Dairy State. The state has held that top position of producing cheese for nearly a century (if you squint in the rearview mirror, you can just make out California and New York, Wisconsin’s closest competitors).Wisconsin is the big cheese

Patrick Geoghegan, senior vice president of corporate communications for the DFW, turns to the high-end auto industry for comparison.

“If you combine the market shares of companies like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, they don’t equal 48 percent,” Geoghegan says. “That’s how dominant Wisconsin has been.”

DFW CEO Chad Vincent says the specialty cheese market is what’s currently driving Wisconsin’s cheese industry. He likens the situation to the wine market in the 1970s, when French dominance was suddenly challenged and toppled by Napa Valley. The same thing is happening with European-made specialty cheese, he says.

“It used to be that if it wasn’t from Italy or France, it wasn’t worth looking at,” Vincent says. “Wisconsin-made cheeses have changed that. We have transformed the market from basic types like cheddar into something entirely different. Consumers are embracing more choices, more flavors and new experiences. We’re really well positioned to take advantage of that.”

It starts with Wisconsin’s great soil, great forage for dairy cows and great sources of water. But it’s more extensive than fortunate geography. Vincent notes that Wisconsin is one of the few states where key stakeholders – the university system, government, farmers and industry – are all pulling in the same direction. To wit: The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Dairy Research is currently undergoing a massive expansion, funded in no small part by the cheesemakers whose industry benefits from its work and testing vats. That’s what we call cheese synergy.

So, yeah, Wisconsin is the Big Cheese. We like it on a cheeseboard, in a curd, grilled and melted between two slices of bread and on the winner’s table at state, national and international competitions. In this package, take a look at all the ways Wisconsin wears the world’s crown (or cheesehead) for this delectable dairy product.

Read more about Wisconsin’s cheese by clicking the images below:

Cheese on the global scale

6 quintessential things you need on a Wisconsin cheeseboard

Anna Thomas Bates is a grilled cheese champion

A historic and cheesy day

For the love of limburger

The 3 Fs of cheese curds: fresh, fried and fancy

What’s the difference between 5-, 10- and 15-year aged cheddar?

13 places to find tasty fromage

An Old Fashioned-inspired cheese tower