If Wisconsin were a country, it would rank fourth in the world in cheese production, after the rest of the U.S., Germany, and France. Ranking first in the U.S. for more than a century, Wisconsin produced 25.3% of the nation’s cheese during the first six months of 2020—1,652,500,000 pounds—according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW).
DFW is a farmer-owned and farmer-directed nonprofit organization funded entirely by Wisconsin’s dairy farm families. It was created in 1983 as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Inc., to increase the sale and consumption of Wisconsin milk and dairy products. The organization’s name was changed to DFW in 2018.
While Wisconsin makes more than 600 different varieties, types, and styles of cheese, mozzarella (33.1%) and cheddar (21.1%) accounted for 54.2% of the varieties produced in the state from January 2020 through June 2020, according to DFW and USDA.
U.S. Cheese Statistics
After Wisconsin, the leading cheese-producing states are California (18.9% of U.S. production, 1,234,300,000 pounds produced from January 2020 through June 2020), Idaho (7.7%, 501,600,000 pounds), New Mexico (7.4%, 485,700,000 pounds), New York (6.3%, 411,900,000 pounds), and Minnesota (5.6%, 369,000,000 pounds), according to USDA NASS. From January 2020 through June 2020, these six states produced 4,655,000,000 pounds of cheese, while total U.S. cheese production was 6,535,632 pounds, USDA NASS reports.
Cheese is the largest single category of specialty food in the U.S., according to Dairy Reporter. U.S. retail cheese sales totaled 2,344,900,000 pounds, valued at $11,726,200,000, from January 1, 2020 through July 12, 2020, according to custom Dairy Management, Inc. analysis of IRI data.
The U.S. exported 357,000 tons of cheese in 2019, ranking second in cheese exports after the European Union-28 (888,000 tons), as published by the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service.
Per capita consumption of natural cheese was 38.15 pounds in 2018, as per the USDA Economic Research Service.
Most recently, Wisconsin’s cheese industry is focused on leadership relative to COVID-19, according to Adam Brock, CFS, DFW’s director of food safety, quality, and regulatory compliance. “DFW has collaborated with industry partners to develop and house information on our COVID-19 resource hub,” Brock says.
In April 2020, DFW published standard operating procedures (SOPs) titled COVID-19 Positive Worker and COVID-19 Positive Worker Return to Work. Brock co-wrote the SOPs with Marianne Smukowski, the dairy safety and quality coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Dairy Research (CDR), which is partially funded through DFW. Among other responsibilities, Smukowski oversees the CDR’s trademarked Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program, a rigorous cheese quality initiative.
Smukowski offers advice for cheese producers to deal with the pandemic as diligently as possible. “Keep explanations simple and clear when instructing employees and anyone visiting your plant about what special procedures and behavior are required and expected,” she recommends. “Emphasize that face masks be worn according to the requirements and guidelines of your local health department. Facilitate proper physical distancing, and make sure you have systems in place to verify that distancing is maintained.”
Smukowski advises that producers conduct a risk assessment relative to communicable illnesses and determine appropriate follow-up steps, should positive cases be identified among employees. She also stresses the importance of having a pandemic communication strategy, both internal and external. “The pandemic is a fluid situation, so be ready for change at any time,” Smukowski says.
Cheese Industry Collaborations
Not surprisingly, Wisconsin, which named cheese its official state dairy product in 2017, boasts myriad initiatives and organizations devoted to promoting cheese quality and safety.
In June 2018, DFW launched a new Wisconsin cheese brand identity that includes the Proudly Wisconsin Cheese logo. “In order to carry the logo, cheese and dairy products must be made with milk purchased from Wisconsin dairy farmers,” Brock says. “This logo demonstrates that consumers are getting a high-quality product, made by licensed cheesemakers in the place that wins more national and international awards for cheese than any other state or country.”
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