There is more than just one reason Wisconsin residents are often referred to as “Cheeseheads”. It could be due to the fact that cheese has been made and commercially sold in Wisconsin for more than 160 years, but in my opinion, it goes far beyond that.
In 1876, the first Wisconsin cheese plant was opened near Sheboygan. Since then, Wisconsin has come a long way, and is currently home to 129 cheese plants. Even more impressive, Wisconsin’s world-renowned cheesemakers produce over 600 varieties, types and styles of cheese, far more than any other state. I don’t think I’ve even come close to trying a quarter of them!
As the nation’s leader in cheese production in terms of both quantity and quality, 90% of Wisconsin’s milk is made into cheese. In addition, Wisconsin cheesemakers produce one out of every four pounds of cheese that is sold in the U.S.
It takes about 10 lbs. of milk just to make 1 lb. of cheese! Wisconsin cheesemakers take this seriously with producing over 2.6 billion pounds of cheese every year. If Wisconsin were a country, it would rank 4th in the world in terms of total cheese production, behind the U.S., Germany and France, and just ahead of Italy.
Continuing the bragging rights, Wisconsin cheese wins more awards than any other state or county in national and international cheese competitions. With this being said, Wisconsin cheesemakers have won 12 out of 16 “U.S. Champion” awards since the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest began in 1981.
In 2009, I served as the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board Intern. Throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to learn all about the Wisconsin dairy industry, especially cheese! Below is a picture of me with a wheel of my favorite Wisconsin cheese.
Wisconsin has been proudly promoting its agricultural heritage for more than 160 years. One can’t help but notice the farm scene shown on the upper corner of Wisconsin’s license plate or the cow head, ear of corn and wheel of cheese featured on the Wisconsin State Quarter.
Dating back to before Wisconsin was even granted statehood, dairying and cheesemaking were more than just a norm for Wisconsin farmers. Beginning in the 1830s, Wisconsin farm wives began making cheese in their kitchens as a way to store excess milk. By the 1900s, Wisconsin had not only become a top competitor in national cheese production, but was also home to the nation’s first dairy school located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that Wisconsin was officially named “America’s Dairyland”, a nickname that was both deserving and significant for a state that had been leading the dairy industry for over a century.
Just as it was then, Wisconsin’s dairy industry continues to be the largest segment of Wisconsin agriculture. Each year, this industry contributes $26.5 billion to the state’s economy and accounts for nearly 40% of all Wisconsin agricultural related jobs. In addition, Wisconsin is nationally ranked 1st in cheese production and 2nd in both milk and butter production. Now that’s something to brag about!
The Wisconsin dairy industry not only represents those that live in Wisconsin, but it is also a defining factor in how others view our state as a whole. Serving as the nation’s leading dairy industry, is not something Wisconsinites take lightly. Wisconsin’s agriculturalists work hard to provide consumers with the safest and highest quality of products, upholding the true standards of “America’s Dairyland”.