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More Women Cheesemakers

In interesting news, as more Wisconsin cheesemakers move into the arena of crafting artisan and farmstead products, a promising trend is taking shape in the Heartland: more and more women are taking the lead.

Of the 1,222 currently active licensed cheesemakers in Wisconsin, less than 40, or 3 percent, are female. In the past three years, however, that trend has spiked upward – with a half dozen women earning their licenses and opening their own farmstead cheesries.

Of course, while working as a cheesemaker is by no means new for women – historically many women made cheese in their kitchens and a handful worked in cheese factories – a definite trend is developing of more women starting their own cheesemaking operations. And instead of hiring a cheesemaker, women are taking classes and completing apprenticeships themselves.

Wisconsin artisan cheesemaker pioneers such as Anne Topham of Fantome Farm, Ridgeway and Mary Falk of Lovetree Farmstead Cheese, Grantsburg, have made artisan cheeses for decades. Others, including Julie Hook, of Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point, was the first woman cheesemaker to earn the title of World Championship Cheese in 1982, while Carie Wagner was the first woman to earn the title of Master Cheesemaker in 2001.

But in the past three years, more women than ever have decided to start their own artisan cheese businesses and earn cheesemaker licenses, including:

More young women also appear to be considering a future in cheesemaking. Kara Kasten, 22, a senior at UW-Madison with a double major in dairy science and life sciences communications, is watching the growing trend of artisan cheesemaking in Wisconsin. She decided a year ago to work for her cheesemaker’s license while attending college and expects to write the cheesemaking test before the end of 2007.

She says: “I’m not entirely sure where my life path is taking me, but I do know that I want to make cheese, and I want to make it in Wisconsin.”

Don’t we all?

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