With Wisconsin facing a shortage of licensed buttermakers (yes, you really do need a license to make/sell butter in this state), several industry groups are finally working to update the rules related to obtaining a buttermaker’s license in America’s Dairyland.

The most exciting news is that, as part of this process, the Center for Dairy Research is offering a new Buttermakers Short Course on Sept 14-16 in Madison. This year, the course is limited to 25 Wisconsin residents and will cover the production of quality butter with an emphasis on flavor, composition and shelf life. Cost is $350. To register, call 608-263-1672, and make it snappy, because this class will sell out soon.

The new Buttermakers Short Course reflects an alternate rule, currently being drafted by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, with input from Wisconsin’s dairy industry, including artisan and farmstead buttermakers.

In January, the state Agriculture Board unanimously approved a scope statement to begin the process of altering the rules to earn a license. Under current law, anyone applying for a buttermaker’s license must pass an exam and match at least one other qualification, including: 1) working under a licensed buttermaker for at least 24 months, 2) working under a licensed buttermaker for 18 months and have completed a training course approved by the agriculture department, or 3) possess a four-year degree in food science, and have worked under a licensed buttermaker at least 12 months.

With only 43 licensed buttermakers left in the state, I would argue that if the rule is not updated, Wisconsin’s butter industry is at risk of not being able to take advantage of new market opportunities, including meeting a growing demand for farmstead and artisan butters.

In good news, it is expected that the new rule will offer another option in obtaining a buttermaker’s license that will include attending the Center for Dairy Research’s Buttermakers Short Course, apprenticing for a certain number of (much more limited) hours under a licensed buttermaker, and then passing a state exam.

The new licensing rules are expected to be finalized by September. Stay tuned for additional updates.

20 thoughts on “Buttermaker License

  1. With only 43 licensed buttermakers in the state and most of those working for big companies where the extent of your required knowledge is to push a button, it would seem to me the potential of working under a licensed buttermaker is nearly zero. Since 49 states and 118 countries some how have managed to produce great products, including one that you love Vermont Butter and Cheese, you would think that the state would just dropped these anticompetitive regulations that were created by buttermakers to limit competition. Would like to see someone challenge the state as I doubt they could justify this regulation. Its only purpose is to keep people out of the business for the benefit of those that are presently in the business.

  2. The first paragraph of WI Stats. 97.17 entitled “Buttermaker and Cheesemaker license” reads:

    this section the terms “buttermaker” and “cheesemaker” mean a
    person employed or who may be employed in a butter or a cheese
    factory who has charge of and supervision over the actual process
    of manufacturing butter or cheese, and shall not include a person
    employed in a butter or cheese factory for the purpose of assisting in the manufacture of such product. This section shall not affect a person making up a product produced on the person’s farm, nor shall it be unlawful for a licensed cheesemaker employed in a licensed cheese factory to make butter or whey cream butter for
    the use or consumption only of the patrons thereof.

  3. Bill Anderson:

    The part about making butter on your own farm has been intrepreted by the powers to mean whey butter for patrons or butter for personal consumption. It does not mean butter for sale.

    The concept of licensing butter makers was created by the butter making industry to ride on the back of the cheese maker debacle. It all made sense in 1915 as there was little regulation, now, not so much. If someone would challenge the state I am sure the whole thing would get tossed as they have no justification for it. Contrary to popular opinion the state cannot create a licensing procedure unless there is a safety issue, something to protect the consumer from. Since the whole world makes butter without a license it would be very difficult to justify and since the state is losing huge amounts of business because of this law it is just stupid to even play the “update” game. Just toss it. Everything is regulated by food safety for the safety and quality of the product what else could you possibly need. There are, arguably, three types of butter. Plain, cultured (let the milk culture for a bit) or salted (throw in some salt). Most butter is made in plants with giant churns and the education required to make it is to push the big red button. As is the case with cheese making, Wisconsin is losing on the Artisan side of the market because it is controlled by the commodity side of the market. They don't have the guts or political will to tell the WCMA, we are done with the charade lets just go make cheese and butter like everyone else does. This will be no different. It will be interesting to watch.

    Our dairy industry is being taken over by foreign companies (Roth Kase – Swiss, Alto – Canada, White Clover – Denmark, Trego – Canada and this is recently) and we continually throw up barriers to new entrants from America.

    Thank you Jeanne for keeping us aware of what is going on. I wouldn't want to miss the drama.

  4. HarryBright-

    Sadly, you are right about the multinational corporations taking over. They are pretty much the same people behind the crackdown on raw milk going on, and all the opposition to the bill to legalize it.

    It seems that right now our legislative Ag committee may actually be sympathetic to eliminating these regulations for small producers, but any such efforts will surely be met with fierce resistance from the goons at DATCP and the various agribussiness lobbys (DBA, Farm Bureau, WCMA, etc…)

    I'm pretty certain that you can still make cheese on your farm and sell it on the farm. DATCP doesn't like people to know about this, and in my experience they go to great legnths to discourage it and keep people from finding out about what the law actually says. DATCP is getting themselves in some pretty hot water right now because they think they set the law, and the legislature is not taking well to this attitude. Its only a matter of time before heads start rolling there. We best be organized, so we can push through the changes we need to stay competative with the multinationals.

  5. Bill:

    You can make cheese on your farm or in your kitchen, for your own use. But you can only make cheese in a licensed facility for sale to the public whether you sell it on or off of the farm. You can sell eggs on the farm without jumping through hoops but not dairy products. First you farm would have to be approved as Grade A or B, more about B in a minute. The license to operate your AorB approved farm actually resides with the dairy plant that you sell your milk to. No dairy plant, no dairy farm approval.

    A question, if the DATCP and WCMA are actually only concerned with quality and not competition, as they say, why does grade B milk exist. The bacteria count in grade B milk can be 3 times that of grade A and it can only be used for Cheese making. Why?

    The licensing laws for cheese and butter are archaic and pointless. The world is passing Wisconsin by and it is the fault of a ag dept that is hostile to new players. I am all for education of cheese and butter makers but it should be required for all. Right now if a large company wants a new buttermaker they hire a guy (or girl) say he has worked there for 2 years and voila you have a new buttermaker. If a small company wants to start making butter the have no way to get a buttermaker certified. The requirement for an “apprenticeship”, which is illegal by the way, puts the control of the industry in the hands of the present participants which are becoming larger and larger and more foreign dominated companies. Does that make sense?

    Dump “work related” requirements for licensing. Increase the quality of education and require it for all cheesemakers and require “continuing” education for all cheesemakers.

    This won't happen because the state would lose half of the “licensed” cheesemakers as these people no longer work in the industry, some for more then 40 years, and they would not renew their licenses if it required more the $25 per year.

    The requirement for “apprenticeship” will still put the obtaining of a buttermakers license in the hands of the present buttermakers. Clearly illegal, immoral and anticompetitive.

  6. You are correct that the cheese or butter would need to be made in a licensed dairy plant, which actually would not be very difficult to construct. It would have the same requirements as the milk house — washable walls, ceilings, and floor, drains, etc… — plus an extra sink compartment. That's all it would take to have a licensed dairy plant. You could move the milk into the plant in stainless steal milk cans, or if you are milking on a pipeline, have the milk pipeline diverted to go directly into the vat and draw the antibiotic and bacterial samples from the vat once all the milk is comingled. You could then turn it into raw milk cheese in an impermeable and sanitize-able polyethelyne tub, and age it 60 days. Your simple dairy plant could hold the producer license for your dairy farm.

    You would not need a cheesemakers license to do this, so long as you were only selling the product on the farm. If this raw milk bill passes, you will also be able to make raw butter, and you would not need a butter maker's license, so long as you were only selling it on the farm.

    I am fairly certain of this. Mary Falk of Lovetree farmstead knows these laws and regs very well, and she was the one who explained this to me. DATCP may not like it because they like to make things as expensive and difficult as possible for small farmers, but it would all be completely consistant with existing laws and regulations. If you understand your process very well, and the regulations in place, they can't tell you no if you are following all the laws and regs.

  7. Actually, HarryBright, Anne Topham of Fantome Farm told me that she was selling her cheese on the farm, with DATCP's blessing, before she had a cheesemaker's license. Apparently, back then, they even let her sell it at farmer's market because they viewed it as an extension of the farm. She just couldn't sell wholesale.

    DATCP knows about the licensing exemption in 97.17, but they don't like farmers to know about it.

  8. One thing I neglected to mention in the above scenario for a simple farmstead creamery, is that you'd need a way to accurately measure the milk. I don't think this would be too difficult, though. You would also probably need a bulk milk weigher/sampler license, which is a pretty easy to get.

  9. Harry-

    All the things you mention are already required for a Grade A milk house. You cannot have a Grade A dairy license if you do not have a flushing toilet on the property, you can only have Grade B. You need to have a grey water system, or some kind of waste water management if you are a Grade A dairy farm, etc, etc…

    My point is that the dairy plant is the exact same requirements for a Grade A milk house, plus you need a 3 compartment sink (rather than a two compartment sink). You can argue this with Mary Falk if you like. She knows the regulations very, very, very well.

    You are correct about the milk cans needing a seperate area to be cleaned, sanitized, and stored.

    Food safety is indeed important. I would not argue with you about that. What I'm saying is that the statute clearly states that 97.17 does not apply to a person making up a product on the persons farm.

  10. Also, re: food safety, I would say that these guys over at DATCP Food Safety Division really don't care all that much about food safety. Its more about politics than anything. Ask Neville McNaughton about this, and you'll get an earful. DATCP is incredibly corrupt, and their karma is starting to catch up with them.

  11. Bill:

    Both Ann Topham and Mary Falk have cheese licenses and licensed dairy plants.

    You can't discuss the pro's and con's of the law with DATCP all day but in the end they are spending state money (which they got from you) to prosecute you and you are spending your money to defend yourself.

    Mary once told me that the license was worth it because it lowered her insurance rates. If they find you are not complying with state mandates you will have no insurance.

    Interpretation of the laws is great fun, but in the end the DATCP will have the last word. You have to decide if you want to spend your time arguing or making cheese/butter.

  12. Neville is hardly a great source of useful information. He wants to do things his way and thinks, because he is from New Zealand, that he is always right. The state somehow managed to make cheese before Neville arrived and I assuming it will continue after he moves on as he surely will to the next buck to be made.

    97.17 allows you to make cheese it does not say that you can sell it to the public. You can make whisky, beer and wine as well, you can't sell it to the public.

    Again, great fun. If Mary is so convinced of this why did she get a license. Why didn't she just go for it. Talks cheap.

    I have to move on.

  13. Harry-

    In the end the legislature and governor have the last word, and they answer to the people.

    DATCP knows what the law is re: 97.17, they just don't like farmers to know about it.

    I would agree with you that having an eduction as a cheesemaker or buttermaker is better than not having one. I just feel that our dairy educational system in this state is sorely lacking and behind the times. It is unfortunate how parochial, chauvanistic, and self-absorbed the Wisconsin dairy industry is. Fortunately there are some of us who have a broader world view.

  14. You can't resell products made by an unlicensed cheesemaker making up the products on their own farm. They have to be sold directly farm-to-consumer. That is how Anne Topham got started, and she did so with the blessing of DATCP. 97.17 clearly states that is does not apply to someone making a product on their own farm. Unlike liquor laws (of which I am also somewhat familiar with… I am a homebrewer as well) which clearly prohibit sales from homebrewed alcohol, 97.17 does not prohibit sales.

    This does not mean that I think it is a bad idea to have a cheesemaker's license. I am simply telling you what the law says. Take it for what it is.

  15. re: New Zealand, I think they are ahead of us in many ways.

    A conversation I had with a New Zealand dairy breeder at the World Dairy Expo, in the grazing tent, comes to mind.

    They do not breed for volume. They breed for components. If a cow can produce the same compenents in less volume of milk, they prefer that. What is the point of trucking a bunch of water around the country side?

    They do not breed for larger animals. If a smaller cow can produce the same components of milk than a larger one, they prefer the smaller one. What is the point of having an animal which puts more energy into its body mass than into its milk?

    Both of these things run totally counter to the philosophy of American breeders, which is to produce bigger animals who make more volume of milk.

    New Zealand breeders keep track of the genes for A1/A2 beta casien in their dairy bulls.

    They even have a statistic in their dairy bulls for Once-A-Day-Milking.

    All of these ideas seem radical to American dairymen. But they are common practice in New Zealand.

    It is easy to bash Neville because he is a consultant and has to make ends meet, but he was the one responsible for ending the practice of large scale American cheesemakers importing curd from overseas, reprocessing it here, calling it an American cheese, and submitting it to the ACS competition as an American cheese. I am told that he was pushed off the ACS board for that.

  16. One more thing here Harry. Sorry, I had to call you out on this (I know its totally irrelevant to our conversation…)

    You CANNOT make whisky at home, legally. Distilling alcohol is illegal, although distilling water and essential oils of plants is legal. You can, however, homebrew beer, wine, mead, cider, etc.. so long as they are not distilled.

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