Cheese in Dairyland


Who does not enjoy a tall glass of cold milk, a slice of handcrafted cheese, or fresh butter smeared over toast? These,among other dairy products, are well-known commodities made in Wisconsin. Despite California’s clamor for recognition, Wisconsin is the original and will remain the dairy state!

I have been to other parts of the U.S. and, most recently, other countries, and cheeses in these places do not taste the same as Wisconsin’s. Some may think this is ridiculous, but take it from a guy who judged dairy products in the FFA, cheese from Wisconsin tastes great. The secret to our great tasting cheese are our vast grasslands for grazing. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture published findings that may prove that cheese made from milk collected from dairy cows graze fed is different, in a good way!

Wisconsin began its claim to dairy fame in the mid-18th century. The state was a top contender in the wheat industry, and was once considered “America’s breadbasket.” Years of not rotating crops drained soil nutrients, fluctuating prices, and access to new, fertile lands father west via railroad assisted the decline of wheat in Wisconsin. Pioneers of the dairy industry like Chester Hazen, William Dempster Hoard, and Stephen Babcock helped solidify Wisconsin’s future as the dairy state. They formed organizations, marketed, and set standards for dairy farmers in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Dairy Farm
(Robert Lambert)

Today, Wisconsin has 1,271,000 dairy cows, and the average number of cows per farm is 120.  Wisconsin takes first and second in a lot of different categories of dairy production. Although the state has fallen second to California in milk production, California lacks the family farm atmosphere. According to a 2012 infographic published by the Progressive Dairyman, the average herd size of a California farm was 1,080 cows, while Wisconsin herds averaged 111 cows.  Can the so-called “Happy Cows” from California really be happy in the factory-style dairy farms in that state?

State Dairy Industry Rank
(Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board)

Like a fine wine or craft beer, cheese making is an art. Wisconsin does not make good cheese, we make the best cheese. The history of how that industry grew Wisconsin is very intriguing ( Okay, so Yankees out East also contributed). It has been hardworking farm families in Wisconsin who have kept it going for over 150 years. Share your experiences growing up on a dairy farm.

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