With April officially marking the one year anniversary of my Wisconsin cheese ramblings, I think it's a good time to prepare a "State of the State Cheese Address." Sounds official doesn't it? Here goes.
The past 12 months have been monumental for Wisconsin dairy artisans. Nearly a dozen new start-ups have crafted new cheeses, built new farmstead bottling plants and experimented with recipes and products that will soon hit the market. A handful of our beloved dairy artisans have also bowed out of the industry and moved on to new ventures. All told, it's been a flavorful year.
As of today, Wisconsin features 21 farmstead dairies. Of this total, 10 are making farmstead cheeses, 8 are bottling farmstead milk, 2 are producing yogurt and one is crafting farmstead ice cream.
When we combine our farmstead dairy processors with those producing artisanal products, the number jumps to 55 total processors. Here's how this number breaks down: 44 cheesemakers; 8 milk bottlers; 2 yogurt producers and one ice cream maker. For a superb listing of Wisconsin farmstead & artisan dairy producers, visit the 2007 Wisconsin directory.
If you want to add specialty cheeses to the mix, here's one last statistic for you: 77 of the state's 115 cheese plants are reporting making at least one type of specialty cheese.
What do all of these numbers mean?
The Wisconsin dairy landscape is a vastly different place than it was even as recent as 10 years ago. Today, almost every dairy plant - big, medium-sized, small or micro - is either making or considering making and/or marketing a specialty or artisanal dairy product.
Almost every national media feature on artisanal cheeses features at least one Wisconsin producer and that number is growing. Wisconsin is increasingly gaining credibility in the national artisanal dairy market.
Let's face it: the days are over of Wisconsin succesfully competing with Western states when it comes to producing cheap commodity cheeses in bulk. Nor should we want to continue that losing battle. By 2020, I predict Wisconsin will be the undisputed national leader in specialty, artisanal and farmstead cheeses in the United States.
We've got the infrastructure. We've got the cheesemakers. We've got the passion.
Now we just need the Pleasant Ridge Reserve foam cheeseheads and we'll be all set.