In 1937, National June Dairy Month began as a way to promote milk consumption. Although few could have predicted the many ways in which dairy would evolve and become a staple in the diets of Americans – especially the devoted dairy fans of Wisconsin.
Even before the national celebratory month was established, Wisconsin was officially named ‘America’s Dairyland.’ Although other states are trying to claim the title, there’s good reason that Wisconsin still deserves the crown.
- Wisconsin has over 9,500 licensed dairy farms and a million plus dairy cows, more per square mile than any other state.
- Believe it or not, these farms produce more than 2 billion pounds of milk each month. Fun fact – that’s roughly the weight of 500,000 sedans.
- Today, Wisconsin ranks both first and second consecutively for production of milk and cheese.
- From an economic standpoint, Wisconsin Dairy is a powerhouse industry generating $43.4 billion annually. That’s more than the combined value of citrus to Florida, potatoes to Idaho, apples to Washington and raisins to California.
- Of the total agricultural contribution to Wisconsin’s economy, nearly half comes from dairy alone, according to the University of Wisconsin, Department of Agriculture & Applied Economics.
- The University of Wisconsin – Madison established the first dairy school in the nation in 1890.
Welcome to Cheese Country
One reason that Wisconsin has a starring role in the dairy industry is simply – cheese. After dairy farms started to spring up across the state in the 1800s, farmers began producing cheese to preserve excess milk. It was a female entrepreneur, Anne Pickett, who took a risk in 1841 to establish Wisconsin’s first commercial cheese factory, using milk from her neighbor’s cows. A century later, more than 1,500 cheese factories call Wisconsin home producing more than 500 million pounds of cheese per year. Wisconsin makes 26 percent of the nation’s cheese supply and if it were a country, it would rank fourth in cheese production in the world, according to the USDA National Agricultural Service.
Mozzarella (33.9%) and cheddar (19.5%) are the most popular cheese varieties in the state, according to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. But they are by no means the only options. Wisconsin’s nearly 1,200 licensed cheesemakers produce more than 600 styles and varieties – nearly double the number of any other state.
Here are a few examples of Wisconsin’s innovative cheesemakers:
- Julie and Tony Hook with Hook’s Cheese Company started making specialty cheeses in Mineral Point back in 1976. In 1982, Julie became the first woman to win the prestigious “Finest Cheese in the World” award at that year’s World Cheese Championship.
- LoveTree Farmstead in Trade Lake has been a quiet pioneer in raw sheep milk farmstead cheese since 1986, receiving multiple awards from the Wisconsin Cheese Society as well as Bon Appetite/Food Network American Food and Entertaining Awards.
- LaClare Family Creamery, which started the first goatherd in Wisconsin in 1978, began shipping their goat milk for commercial cheese production and since then has expanded into raw milk and mixed milk cheeses, bottled milk, and yogurt products that have won numerous accolades.
- Originally from the Netherlands, Marieke Penterman, founder of Marieke Gouda – started making authentic Dutch Gouda in 2006 and soon after began racking up numerous honors including being named a US Grand Champion in 2013. Since then, the company has grown significantly adding a state-of-the-art facility and store along Highway 29 which enables cheese fans to see cheesemaking up close.
Rural Mutual Insurance salutes the passion and drive that characterize these cheesemakers and all Wisconsin Dairy Farmers. Rural Mutual is the #1 farm insurer in Wisconsin. We review risk for a living and understand the challenges that farmers face. Contact your local Rural Mutual Insurance agent to customize your policy specific to your farm.