Many of you who tolerate my ramblings on this blog were also among the 1,000 visitors to the Second Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival, held Nov. 5 – 7, in Madison, Wis. You witnessed first hand the state’s growing number of cheesemakers who debuted at least 10 new artisan cheeses, presented information during a half dozen tasting seminars, and led several tours of their facilities.

But did you know that many of these cheesemakers are alumni of the Dairy Artisan Research Program, a joint effort of the Babcock Institute, the Department of Food Science at UW-Madison, the Dairy Business Innovation Center, and the state Department of Agriculture?

The Dairy Artisan Research Program provides airfare for individuals who wish to travel abroad to conduct research on dairy production methods in other countries. In return, program participants present what they have learned to others, and write a paper about their findings, which is published and distributed to help the Wisconsin dairy industry.

Alumni cheesemakers who participated in the festival include:

George & Debbie Crave: The Craves traveled to Switzerland in 2004 to study affinage, and have since been recognized as one of Wisconsin’s leading farmstead dairies. They sampled their many cheeses at the festival’s Meet the Cheesemaker Gala.

Andy Hatch: Andy traveled to Europe in 2009 to study new cheesemaking methods. At the festival’s Meet the Cheesemaker Gala, he debuted his new, much-anticipated Rush Creek Reserve, modeled on France’s Vacherin Mont d’Or.

Larry & Clara Hedrich: In 2009, the Hedrichs traveled to the Netherlands and Germany to study goat cheesemaking. Their daughter, Katie Hedrich, sampled the family’s Evalon cheese at the festival, and also participated in the “Next Generation Cheesemakers” seminar.

Willi Lehner: Willi traveled to the British Isles to study affinage in 2005, and has since developed an award-winning line of bandaged, English-style Cheddar.

Jon Metzig: Jon traveled to Ireland, England and Switzerland in 2009. He debuted his new St. Jeanne cheese at the festival, a washed-rind beauty named for his grandmother.

Diana Murphy: Diana traveled to Vermont to attend a Mediterranean Cheesemaking session in 2007. She was a panelist at the festival’s “The Rise of the Woman Farmstead Cheesemaker in Wisconsin.”

Anne Topham: Anne has traveled to Italy and France through the Dairy Artisan Research Program. She sampled her new Chevre Provencal at the festival’s Meet the Cheesemaker Gala.

Bob Wills: Bob traveled to Honduras in 2009 to help emerging cheesemakers hone their craft. Bob debuted his new Water Buffalo Mozzarella at the festival’s Meet the Cheesemaker Gala.

Many thanks to the Babcock Institute, DBIC, DATCP and UW-Madison for making travel opportunities possible for Wisconsin cheesemakers. I’m looking forward to the innovation that continues to occur through the Dairy Artisan Research Program.

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