Statistics released today confirm Wisconsin cheesemakers continue to lead the nation in crafting innovative cheeses.

The National Ag Stats Service reports that Wisconsin’s specialty cheese production in 2006 rose 7 percent above the previous year, totaling 387 million pounds and accounting for 16 percent of the state’s total cheese production. (In comparison, in 2004, specialty cheese made up 12 percent of all production).

Wisconsin cheese makers now produce more than 600 styles and types of cheeses, and 80 of the 115 cheese plants in Wisconsin are today manufacturing at least one type of specialty cheese.

The most popular specialty cheeses continue to be Blue, Feta, Hispanic types, specialty Provolone, Parmesan Wheel and Asiago. Interestingly enough, Hispanic types passed specialty Provolone to become the third most popular specialty cheese.

Cheeses with an annual growth in production of 10 percent or more including specialty Cheddar, Parmesan wheel and Italian Fontina.

For all the stats, view the report here.