Wisconsin Cheese - Cheese Guide

June 12, 2019 | By Dave Mattingly

Wisconsin Cheese, made in America's Dairyland in the central US, has roots in prehistoric events. The most recent Ice Ages cut glaciers through the present day state of Wisconsin. As the mountains of ice receded, rolling hills and fertile fields were carved into the land. Fast forward to the 19th century when European immigrants settled the American Midwest. They found that the climate and geography of Wisconsin was favorable for farming, so crops were grown such as wheat, hops and other grains. Dairy farming soon followed, and in order to preserve excess milk of their herds, farmers began making cheese.

By the mid 1800s the Wisconsin Cheese industry began to take shape. In 1841, Wisconsin's first cottage industry cheese factory was established by Mrs. Anne Pickett using milk from her neighbors' cows. Prior to 1850 Cheddar was the most common cheese produced in the US, and as Wisconsin's cheese industry took root, Cheddar became the main variety produced. By 1872, procedures were established to market Wisconsin Cheese to other states, and in 1890 the University of Wisconsin developed the first milkfat tests which are still in use today. By 1922, 2,800 cheese factories existed in Wisconsin. Many immigrant cheesemakers representing almost every country in Europe chose Wisconsin as their home. They employed traditional recipes and methods of producing cheese form their old country such as Mozzarella and Provolone from Italy, Cheddar from England, Gouda and Edam from Holland, and Brie and Camembert from France.

Today, over 12,000 dairy farms and approximately 120 Wisconsin Cheese plants produce an astounding 2.6 billion pounds of Wisconsin Cheese per year, representing over 25% of the total domestic US cheese production. Wisconsin has more licensed cheesemakers than any other state thanks to the University of Wisconsin's Master Cheesemaking Program, established in 1994 which offers the only advanced cheesemaking training available outside of Europe.

Types of Wisconsin Cheese

Aged Cheddar: Most Wisconsin cheesemakers produce a cheddar along with the rest of their line. One notable producer is Widmer's Cheese Cellars of Theresa, Wisconsin. Handcrafted in small batches, Widmer's Cheddar is rich, nutty and sharp with intense and complex flavors. Joe Widmer is the company's 3rd generation cheesemaker and is a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker having completed a rigorous three year training program twice. Widmer's ages their cheddars anywhere from 1 to 10 years, becoming more granular and crunchy as it ages.

Beer Kaese: A product of Monroe, Wisconsin, Beer Kaese (German for beer cheese) is a surface-ripened German-style version of Brick cheese. Pungent, earthy and slightly tangy, Beer Kaese is reminiscent of Limburger, Brick, and Liederkranz.

Brick Cheese: The oldest original cheese from the US and a Wisconsin original, Brick Cheese is produced by Widmer's Cheese and the Chalet Cheese Cooperative, owned and operated by 29 members who specialize in the production of Brick, Limburger and Baby Swiss cheeses. Brick cheese, so named because it was originally pressed by placing it beneath heavy bricks, is a surface ripened cheese that is mild and sweet when young and is pungent and tangy when aged.

Buttermilk Blue: Buttermilk Blue is a creamy blue cheese made from the highest quality milk of Jersey and Holstein cows. Cured at least two months, Buttermilk Blue is creamy and tangy with a clean, sweet finish. This exquisite award-winning blue cheese is gluten-free and proof that not all great blue cheese originates outside of the US.

Country Castle Limburger: Produced by the Chalet Cheese Cooperative, Country Castle Limburger is the only authentic Limburger cheese produced in the US. This Limburger is a semi-soft surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese with a pungent aroma. Country Castle Limburger pairs perfectly with a slice of rye bread and a slice of onion.

Carr Valley Originals: The Carr Valley Cheese Company was established in 1902. This company is famous for creating numerous original cheese recipes, as well as making some excellent traditional Wisconsin cheeses like Cheddar as well. Their award-winning Cocoa Cardona is made from 100% goat's milk, then rubbed with cocoa prior to aging. With its cocoa-colored rind, Cocoa Cardona's subdued chocolate flavor is balanced by the tanginess of the cheese.

Wisconsin Cheese Facts

  • Wisconsin is the #1 cheese producing state in the US, producing over 25% over the country's cheese.
  • Wisconsin produces the following percentages of total US production: 67% Muenster, 43% Brick Cheese, 26% Cheddar and 25% Mozzarella.
  • Wisconsin has more licensed cheesemakers than any other state – approximately 1,300.
  • Wisconsin has the strictest standards in the country for cheese and dairy product quality.
  • Wisconsin is the top ranked producer in the US for Cheddar, American, Mozzarella, Brick, Muenster and Limburger cheeses.
  • The term "cheesehead" is used to describe a person from Wisconsin, and the high volume of cheese produced in the state.
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