You've got to hand it to Wisconsin. We're very good at creating programs that promote our cheesemakers as the rock stars of the dairy world.
Two more guys hopped on the summer tour bus this week, as Bruce Workman of Edelweiss Creamery and Tom Torkelson, who crafts his American Original Natural Valley cheeses at K&K, earned their much-earned and highly-acclaimed Master Cheesemakers titles.
Make no mistake: being a Master Cheesemaker isn't just a line in small print these guys can now add to their business cards. It's at minimal a 10-year journey - and often much longer - that most cheesemakers work towards most of their adult lives.
So what is a Master Cheesemaker and why do we care?
The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program is the only advance certification program of its kind outside Europe. It's run by the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research with support by the WMMB and is open only to licensed Wisconsin cheesemakers who hold a minimum of 10 years cheesemaking experience. It takes about two years to become certified as a Master Cheesemaker and is an intensive educational and hands-on experience.
Of the more than 1,200 cheesemakers currently holding licenses in Wisconsin, only 44 are certified Master Cheesemakers. It's a pretty elite group that draws current masters, like Bruce Workman, back again and again to become certified in multiple cheeses, and cheesemakers, like Tom Torkelson, to work to earn Master status.
In fact, Bruce now boasts the unique status of earning the most Master certifications, with seven cheese varieties, more than any other cheesemaker in the state. Bruce can now place his Master's Mark seal on his Baby Swiss, Butterkase, Gruyere, Havarti, Swiss, Raclette and Emmentaler cheeses.
Not to be outdone, Tom has now earned his Master's Cheesemaker certification in two cheeses: Brick and Muenster. No stranger to cheesemaking -- he's been doing it for 25 years -- Tom has already -- even before the ink dries on his first graduation diploma -- applied to enter the master's program a second time to earn certification in additional cheese varieties.
"Doing the coursework, taking thes test and networking with other cheesemakers and instructors makes you think hard and gives you the tools to be more strategic and creative about what you're doing," Tom says. "I can't wait to go through again."
Most excellent. Sounds like the cheesemaker rock star tour will be coming back for a reunion tour next summer. I'm ready to buy tickets, how about you?