The advent of a landmark law and regulations that licensed cheese makers and dairy plants in Wisconsin exactly 100 years ago was ushered in with these words: “We had to make them comprehensive, we had to make them adequate as to get good results, and we had to make them reasonable, and I can assure you that the members of the Dairy and Food Commission are a great deal more anxious that those regulations be reasonable than you are. We do not want to force any unreasonable law or regulations on you.”
The License Law
Thus spoke Mr. E. L. Aderhold, Wisconsin dairy regulator, in January 1916 at the 24th annual gathering of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA). “The License Law,” signed by Governor Philipp in 1915, created a professional license for the Wisconsin cheese maker (requiring 12 months experience) and a license and regulations for cheese factories and creameries numbering more than 2,000 in the state.
The verbatim meeting records of the WCMA provide a glimpse into this formative past, including cheese makers complaining the very next year of neighboring factories operating without license. Yet who could argue that a state making 234 million pounds of cheese in 1915 and 2.8 billion pounds 100 years later hasn’t benefitted from a law that began an era of trained, licensed cheese makers and rules for dairy plant construction and sanitation.
Wisconsin saw a glimpse of Mr. Aderhold’s “reasonable” spirit recently when the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (WDATCP) proposed a new production-surface sampling (swabbing) program last summer for all food and dairy plants in the state.
Today’s pitched battle by Europe to claw back cheese names is mocked by history.
After consulting with industry Q/A experts, the food safety division within WDATCP refined its swabbing concept. Now, a dairy plant with no food safety violations and with an established environmental sampling and microbiological testing program will not face additional swabbing by state inspectors.
In other words, WDATCP chose the pragmatic solution of accepting industry sampling data verified by professional labs, rather than building a redundant sampling program. E. L. Aderhold would be proud.
Another current issue echoes through the past in a 1918 speech given by Fred Marty entitled “Foreign Cheese.” Wisconsin is, apparently, approaching its 100-year anniversary of the production of Greek and Italian-style cheeses in the state. “In the last two years,” Marty told the WCMA annual meeting in 1918, “an addition of Italian and Greek origin [cheeses] today are manufactured in the state of Wisconsin….These different types of cheese, such as Romano, Reggiano, Myzithra, etc. add a new branch of foreign cheese to our cheese industry….”
Seventy-six years later, in 1992, the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy earned a US trademark for the words Parmigiano Reggiano. And 80 years after Wisconsin started making Reggiano, the European Union classified Parmigiano Reggiano in 1996 as a protected designation of origin (PDO) food for Italy, a classification for geographic indicators recognized in the EU.
The Italian Consorzio for Parmigiano Reggiano wasn’t even founded in Italy until 18 years after Mr. Marty noted that Italian immigrants were producing Reggiano in Wisconsin.
Today’s pitched battle by Europe to claw back cheese names is mocked by history. Cheeses such as Swiss, Romano, Reggiano, Feta, Asiago and Gruyere are cheese types, not location indicators. Certainly these cheeses have origins in Europe, but for more than 100 years immigrants have produced European cheese types in America and other New Worlds.
These cheeses are rooted in their new homes, like the immigrant families that brought the skills to make these cheeses.
Europeans will continue to seek United States trademarks for cheese styles and will continue to seek protected designations of origin for cheeses, and then try to impose those PDOs in trade treaties worldwide. But this is an economic effort, not a cultural one. Skills in cheesemaking, winemaking, masonry, mining, baking and more followed Europeans as they settled abroad, and these products and skills are woven into American culture.
“The growth of the cheese industry in Wisconsin has been remarkable,” Wisconsin’s Dairy and Food Commissioner George Weigle stated in 1916. “Some of the cheese makers had followed the profession in their native country across the waters, or possibly others had become cheese makers because they followed the footsteps of their fathers. These men as a rule were experts and laid the foundation of what would one day be called the greatest industry of a great state.”
Here’s to 100 years of great, licensed cheesemaking in Wisconsin. JU
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at
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