There’s a reason why “saying cheese” results in an automatic smile. The creamy, salty, occasionally stinky dairy product has drawn delight and admiration from cultures across the globe. But let’s be entirely honest: There’s not much the average Joe(y) knows about where this gift from the food gods comes from (other than a cow, of course). In fact, there’s not much we know about cheese in general, despite ingesting its most popular varieties (hi, Swiss!) on a daily basis, while poking fun at the polarizing effects of a sharp-tasting blue.
To expand my knowledge and develop an even deeper appreciation for my favorite happy hour indulgence, I didn’t have to venture far. Our Midwestern neighbor Wisconsin, appropriately dubbed America’s Dairyland, hosted me for a weekend full of cheese and dairy wisdom, complete with fascinating facts about the state’s massive production efforts.
Whether you’re pining for parmesan, giddy for gouda, or hungry for havarti, Wisconsin’s surely got you covered. Here’s what I learned about their thriving, unique, and good ol’ American industry.
1. Wisconsin boasts more national and international cheese awards than anywhere in the world.
It’s easy to assume that cheese’s finest varieties are found in Europe, but it’s The Badger State that—more often than not—sees gold. One highlight is Upland Cheese’s alpine-style Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which boasts in the glory of being America’s most-awarded cheese in history. ‘Moo’ve over, France.
2. Over 600 varieties, types, and styles of cheeses are created in Wisconsin.
Think you can’t get a fine mozzarella or Mexican-style cotija from the Midwest? Think again. Your Wisconsin cheesemaker may be sporting a plaid shirt, Wrangler jeans, and cowboy boots, but that doesn’t make him or her any less qualified to produce internationally adored styles. Brie-lieve it.
3. Wisconsin produces one of every four pounds of cheese in the U.S.
California, Idaho, and New York follow, respectively, but none come close to the 2.2 billion pounds Wisconsin produces on an annual basis.
4. Wisconsin is the only state to require a license to create cheese.
Consider it a “license to skill,” though a trip to Wisconsin will prove that it’s more of a lifestyle and even an art.
5. You can become a certified Master Cheesemaker.
The process is rigorous and requires 10 years of cheesemaking, a formal sequence of courses, quality assurance programs, and exams. Once you earn the title, a special seal can be slapped on your products to foster an added level of consumer trust. Unfortunately, this honor does not come with a special cheese crown, but we’re sure that any Master Cheesemaker could easily make one.
6. Got milk? In 2017, Wisconsin produced over 30 billion pounds of it.
You typically need 10 gallons of milk to produce one pound of cheese, so it only makes sense to create the supply for such high demand.
7. 23 percent of the total dairy farms in the U.S. are in Wisconsin.
Not surprising considering fact #6, though most Wisconsin dairy farms contain an average of 145 cows—nearly 100 less than the U.S. average.
8. 96 percent of the dairy farms in Wisconsin are family-owned.
But honestly, the thought of waking up extra early to milk cows before school sounds awful for this city boy. #Respect
9. There is a Cows First program through Emmi Roth that rewards farmers for humane animal practices.
Happy cows = better cheese. Farmers receive incentives for ensuring our bovine friends have an exceptional quality of life. Have you seen those oversized robo-brushes? We’ll take a few in the office, please.
10. The Wisconsin Dairy Industry generates $43.4 billion for the state’s economy.
Now that’s a whole lot of cheddar. In fact, it’s more than the citrus industry for Florida, the potato industry for Idaho, and the raisin industry for California.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.