WCMA Perspectives | Contributing Columnist

Assistance Abounds for Artisans

John Umhoefer executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association

August 2, 2019


Artisan and specialty cheese makers returning home fired up by the American Cheese Society annual meeting in early August have a wealth of assistance waiting to boost their business.

Here’s nine current opportunities to grow, market and protect your cheese venture.

1.USDA’s Dairy Innovation Initiative: Dairy organizations across the nation will learn in August if they’ve won new grants from US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to build innovation centers focused on helping dairy farmers and small cheese makers grow specialty dairy enterprises. The brainchild of Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, this innovation initiative is codified in the new farm bill. USDA allocated $1.5 million to build at least three innovation centers this year, and there’s room in the farm bill to allocate millions more to this effort in coming years.

As conceived, half the dollars USDA gives to each center will be offered as grants to specialty processors or farmstead dairies with new product ideas, facility or process updates, modernization and specialization at farms and product marketing. The other half of dollars for each center are used to provide direct technical assistance – training, consultants, mentoring – to build business plans, assist with product development and marketing, find market niches and try new technology.

2. New Grant Dollars at TURBO: Complementing the USDA program, Wisconsin’s Economic Development Corporation awarded Center for Dairy Research (CDR) in Madison $350,000 in 2019 to help new and existing small dairy businesses. This program will reimburse 75 percent of the cost of business consultant fees for small businesses that offer value-added dairy products. TURBO, the business development and technology transfer wing of CDR, will kick off reimbursement grants this summer.

3. Rural Capital Access: WCMA is working with Wisconsin legislators and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) to carve out a special category of loan guarantees for rural agribusinesses from existing WHEDA programs. The Wisconsin Senate approved language targeting $3 million for rural agribusiness and the state Assembly is being urged to take up this concept in the coming weeks.

4. Dairy Food Safety Alliance: Smaller dairy plant leaders wear many hats, and the Dairy Food Safety Alliance offers a free resource to keep busy processors up to date on state and federal food safety regulations. The Alliance, a partnership of WCMA, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and CDR, meets again August 27 with hot topics for plant leaders, including updates on the Food Safety Modernization Act, the product recall team at Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, and advice on third party audits from Organic Valley Cooperative.

5. USDEC Group Consolidation: In 2019, US Dairy Export Council has focused a significant portion of its cheese export efforts on specialty cheese marketing. This enhanced focus on specialty cheese is evident in the Group Consolidation Task Force, a nationwide team of processors focused on building a successful program to consolidate small-batch specialty cheeses in the US, deliver products overseas, and arrange cold storage and retail distribution in key cheese markets.

6. Affordable Brine Safety: WCMA’s recent Artisan Dairy Food Safety Initiative helped more than 80 small cheese makers prepare detailed food safety plans and yielded a novel research idea now underway. WCMA, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Innovation Center for US Dairy are looking at the simple, cost-effective idea of using hydrogen peroxide as part of best management practices for cheese brines at small dairies to assure brines are pathogen free. The renowned Food Research Institute and CDR on the University of Wisconsin campus are testing the effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide in samples of real small-plant brines and initial results are promising.

7. Cheesemaker License Test Preparation: An all-new workshop from CDR offers aspiring cheese makers a perfect final preparation for the licensing exam in Wisconsin. “Preparing for the Wisconsin Cheesemaker License Exam,” a one-day workshop, will be offered August 29 in Eau Claire, WI, Sept. 10 in Barneveld, WI, and Sept. 12 in Appleton.

8. Artisan Supplier Food Safety: A new food safety workshop will premiere Sept. 20 in Monroe, WI, teaching artisan cheese producers how to identify, qualify and mitigate risks posed by ingredients, packaging, equipment and services. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Innovation Center for US Dairy have modified a supply chain workshop for larger manufacturers to benefit smaller cheesemakers.

9. Certificate in Dairy Processing: CDR’s popular certificate series returns this fall, beginning Sept. 4., featuring in-person trainings and 10 live, online modules that deliver a deep dive for dairy manufacturers into milk composition, cheesemaking, sanitation, dairy ingredients, cheese ripening, whey production and more.

This is merely a sampling of current opportunities for artisan and specialty cheese makers. Offerings continue at Center for Dairy Research, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and WCMA and other great institutions like American Cheese Society, Cornell University,
Innovation Center for US Dairy and USDEC are focused on specialty cheese success

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed by Cheese Reporter columnists are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Cheese Reporter.



John Umhoefer

John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 286-1001 or e-mail John Umhoefer at jumhoefer@wischeesemakers.org

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