With more than 10,000 dairy farms and 134 processing plants, Wisconsin is the undisputed leader in cheese production in the U.S. In 2013, the state?s dairy industry produced more than 3.2 billion gallons of milk and over 2.8 billion pounds of cheese. This accounts for more than one-fourth of all cheese production in the U.S. Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland; its residents are known more colloquially as Cheeseheads.

A Tradition of Excellence in Cheese Production

Wisconsin is rightly famous for the quality and variety of cheese produced by farmers in this Great Lakes state. The tradition of cheese making in Wisconsin began in the early 1800s as immigrant farmers from Europe began to settle on this fertile land and to raise dairy cows. The abundant pasture lands of Wisconsin allowed these cattle to produce large quantities of wholesome milk. Cheese making began as a way for local farmers to preserve surplus milk and to store it for use at a later time. Because many of the early settlers in this area were of Germanic and Swiss ancestry, Swiss cheeses were among the most common and popular types of cheese produced in the area. Colby cheese was first developed in Wisconsin in 1874.

Cheese Goes Commercial

The first commercial cheese enterprise was likely that of Anne Pickett in 1841, who bought milk from neighboring dairy farms and produced cheese for sale in the Lake Mills area. John J. Smith is notable as the first individual to produce and sell Wisconsin cheese to consumers and companies outside the state; his brother, Hiram Smith, founded the first major cheese factory in the state of Wisconsin. The first full-scale independent cheese processing factory opened in Ladoga in 1864 and began a wave of construction and production that established Wisconsin as the center for cheese in the U.S. By the 1940s, at least 1,500 cheese producing factories were in operation within the state and produced upwards of 500 million pounds of cheese each year.

Today, Wisconsin dairy farmers and processing plants are responsible for the production of more than 600 varieties of cheese. Many of these cheese products are sold locally and distributed to grocery chains and retailers across the U.S. and Canada.

Economic Value of Wisconsin Cheese Is Significant

The revenues produced by the dairy industry in Wisconsin amount to more than $26 billion annually. Approximately 90 percent of the milk produced in Wisconsin is used in cheesemaking; of that cheese, 90 percent is sold outside state borders. It is estimated that an average dairy farm with 250 producing cows can generate as much as $1 million in revenues for the state of Wisconsin. Since dairy cows must be milked two or three times daily, the jobs created by the cheese industry amount to approximately 40 percent of the entire agricultural employment base for Wisconsin. Roughly 99 percent of all Wisconsin dairy farms are family owned and operated, allowing this industry to preserve the family farm for future generations.

Wisconsin Cheese Industry Is Poised For Continued Growth

n 1921, Wisconsin became the first state to grade cheese according to quality. It is still the only state in the U.S. that requires oversight of cheese making operations by a licensed cheesemaker. Wisconsin also offers a three-year Master Cheesemaker program to develop skilled leaders for the next generation of cheese making. The quality of Wisconsin cheese is legendary; the state routinely wins top honors at U.S. and world championship competitions. As demand for cheese products continues to grow in the U.S. and around the globe, the future looks bright for Wisconsin and its vibrant cheese/dairy industry.

Excellent stewardship and insight by the Wisconsin cheese making community and the State of Wisconsin has been crucial to the longevity and integrity of cheese making in Wisconsin.

In a similar role, Chortek LLP takes great satisfaction in our 65 years of history serving as a financial steward to members of the Wisconsin cheese making community and other business sectors. Our highly trained and certified accounting professionals stand ready to provide you with accounting and tax services that accurately measure the market value of business assets, determine income, and preserve capital.

Contact Chortek LLP today to discuss your unique accounting, advisory and tax service needs.

Key statistics and other related information used this article can be found at: www.wmmb.com/assets/images/pdf/WisconsinDairyData.pdf www.eatwisconsincheese.com/wisconsin/history_of_wisconsin_cheese.aspx www.dairydoingmore.org/economicimpact/DairyFacts.aspx www.wisconsincheeseretail.com/marketingtools/wi_cheese_difference.aspx