Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wisconsin Cheese Still Rules

Yet another story about the phantom cheese war between Wisconsin and California was widely published by the AP this week, leading me to wonder: does anyone really care about gross cheese tonnage other than the media?

Yes, Wisconsin is the nation's leading cheese producer. Yes, within the next year or two, we will probably be passed by California's mega cheese plants spewing out millions of pounds of commodity cheeses a week.

So what? When you think of California is the first word that comes to your mind "cheese"? I'd guess not so much.

So what's the hoopla really about? Will Wisconsin remove the words "America's Dairyland" from its license plates even when we are No. 2 in cheese production? Will we really throw away the foam cheese heads we wear to keep warm at those December Green Bay Packer games? Will we give up eating cheese curds until we're so sick to our stomachs that we promise never to eat them again, only to pick up another bag the next Friday morning at 7 a.m. from the local cheese plant?

No. And here's why:

1. Dairy is part of Wisconsin's heritage. We have lived and literally breathed dairy air for more than 100 years. The black and white bovines that you see grazing in California's Happy Cow ads are probably filmed in Wisconsin. We still have green pastures, red barns and more than 14,000 family-owned dairy farms.

2. Wisconsin has 1,200 men and women who have spent at least 18 months working to get their cheesemakers licenses; 43 men and women who have worked at least 10 years to get their Master Cheesemaker's licenses and 117 cheese factories at which they work to craft a new style of artisan or specialty cheese every day. We make more than 600 types of cheese. California makes 250.

3. Wisconsin wins more awards for its cheeses than any other state or nation. We continually sweep every major national and international dairy competition. We have more cheese factories with walls covered in blue ribbons than anywhere on earth.

So what say we end this make-believe arms, er I mean cheese race, and start talking about the real story: where else can you find a world-class dairy infrastructure committed to supporting thousands of farm families and hundreds of cheesemakers who spend their lives perfecting that chunk of cheese you seek out for that special dinner party, holiday gift or to share with a group of friends?

Only in Wisconsin.

And oh yeah, it's almost Friday - time to buy the cheese curds. Pass the Lactaid.