Under construction now in the US is one of the largest cheese factories in America, Leprino Foods’ new Mozzarella cheese facility in Greeley, CO, and one of the smallest, the Clock Shadow Creamery in urban Milwaukee, WI.
These projects illustrate the robust health of the US cheesemaking industry and its striking dichotomy.
Production of high volume cheeses such as part skim Mozzarella and pizza cheese together with mild Cheddar blocks and barrels is consolidating into fewer, larger, state-of-the-art facilities. At the same time, the success of a broad variety of value-added specialty cheeses is fueling expansion and a burst of all-new cheesemaking sites across the nation.
Simply put, cheese makers in the US are, at this moment, making more varieties of cheese than ever before. And inspiration and innovation show no sign of abating.
Overall growth is clear from data collected by USDA: in 2010 cheese makers produced more than 10.4 billion pounds of cheese, 3.5 percent more than the 10.07 billion pounds produced in 2009. USDA reports that the number of cheese plants in the US has soared 25 percent in the last 10 years, rising from 407 in 2001 to 511 last year.
Consider this, about 40 percent of
cheese produced in the US is Cheddar and related natural cheeses like Colby, Monterey and Jack. Last year, just 30 cheese plants across the country produced an estimated 90 percent of America’s high volume Cheddar and related natural styles. That’s consolidation.
Yet the number of cheese varieties, the volume of cheese and addition of new production sites is growing, not shrinking. And not only are new cheesemaking facilities being built, but existing cheese plants are expanding as well.
Explosive growth in new plants and plant additions can be tied back to value-added, specialty cheese growth. Wisconsin’s agriculture department tracks this category more closely than any other state, and in 2010 America’s Dairyland accounted for 552 million pounds of specialty cheeses, a healthy 10 percent increase over the previous year.
Last fall (September 3, 2010) this column described plant expansions among 18 Wisconsin cheese manufacturers. That list included growth at two major Mozzarella plants, and additions to more than 15 sites producing specialty cheeses in the state.
Wisconsin specialty cheese growth in 2010 included strong increases in specialty Cheddars (such as bandaged Cheddar), aged Provolone, Parmesan wheels, Hispanic cheeses and Feta.
But growth in specialty cheese is about more than volume. Equally important is this category’s explosive growth in cheese varieties, flavors and packaging styles.
Twenty years ago, “Blue cheese” in the US referred to the ubiquitous Danish-style wheel. In 2011, at the United States Championship Cheese Contest, makers submitted 31 distinct types of cheese with blue molding.
Twenty years ago, “smear-ripened cheese” referred almost exclusively to the limburger made at Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe, WI. In 2011, 26 unique smear-ripened cheeses vied for medals in the Contest.
Cheeses made from goat’s and sheep’s milk are accelerating in popularity. The 2011 United States Championship Cheese Contest counted 197 unique cheeses in these categories.
Success for specialty cheeses can also be measured in the number of new, “greenfield” cheesemaking sites that have sprung up across the nation. What follows is a list of new cheesemaking sites in Wisconsin - not plant expansions - but all-new cheesemaking locations established since 2001 (with every attempt to be complete):
• W&W Dairy; new Hispanic cheese factory in Monroe
• Yellowstone Cheese; new farmstead cheese factory in Cadott
• Family Fresh Pack; new cheese spreads factory in Belleville
• Harmony Specialty Dairy Foods; new specialty cheese factory in Edgar
• BelGioioso Cheese; new Italian-styles cheese plant in Freedom
• Hidden Springs Creamery; new farmstead sheep cheese facility in Westby
• Caprine Supreme; new farmstead goat cheese factory in Black Creek
• Woolwich Dairy; new goat cheese factory in Lancaster
• Roelli Cheese; new specialty cheese factory in Shullsburg
• Saxon Cheese Factory; new farmstead cheese factory in Cleveland
• Holland’s Family Cheese; new farmstead Gouda cheese factory in Thorp
• Dreamfarm; new farmstead goat cheese factory in Cross Plains
• Seymour Dairy; new Blue cheese factory in Seymour
• Gingerbread Jersey; new farmstead cheese factory in Augusta
•Castle Rock Organic; new farmstead cheese factory in Foster
• Shullsburg Creamery; new cheese factory in Shullsburg
• Uplands Cheese, new farmstead specialty cheese factory in Dodgeville
• Lake Country Dairy; new Italian-styles cheese factory in Turtle Lake
• Belgioioso Cheese; new Italian-styles cheese plant in Denmark
• Winona Foods; new cheese processing plant in Suamico
•Wohlt Cheese; new pasteurized
process facility in New London
• Willow Creek Cheese; new natural cheese plant in Berlin
• Crave Brothers; new farmstead specialty cheese plant in Watertown
• Klondike Cheese; new feta cheese plant in Monroe
• Mexican Cheese Producers; new Hispanic cheese plant in Darlington
In closing, WCMA learned this week of the passing of Glen Dedow, WCMA Life Member, Past President, cheese maker and president of Lone Elm Cheese Sales in Van Dyne, WI. Glen provided crucial leadership for the Wisconsin cheese industry and he would have been pleased by the list of new cheese factories and the growth in specialty cheese sales noted above. He will be missed by many. r
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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