Specialty Food News today reports that while the overall U.S. cheesemaking industry is on the rise, interestingly enough, the number of small cheesemaking establishments is far outpacing the growth of larger operations in America.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census, between 2007 and 2012, the total number of cheesemaking establishments in the U.S. rose by 13 percent to 542, while growth in small establishments, (defined as employing up to 19 people), rose more than double that rate, by 28 percent, to 250.

The report reveals that in 2012, small cheesemaking facilities accounted for 46 percent of all cheesemaking establishments, compared with 41 percent in 2007. As for employment statistics, 44,432 people in the U.S. were employed in cheesemaking in 2012, 7 percent more than five years earlier.

The census has all sorts of raw data in it – you can view it by clicking here. It contains tidbits like this: in 2012, cheesemaking operations spent $809.9 million on capital expenditures, three-quarters of which was spent on machinery and equipment, a 37 percent jump compared to 2007.

Here in Wisconsin, these numbers come as no surprise. Cheese factories have heavily reinvested in their facilities in the past few years. Official estimates from the governor’s office put the number at $230 million in private investment in Wisconsin’s dairy industry since 2010.

And, Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in the production of specialty cheese. In May, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that specialty cheese accounted for 22 percent of Wisconsin’s total cheese production in 2013, an increase of 29 million pounds over the year before.

Just as with dairy farming, there is room – especially in Wisconsin – for cheese plants of all sizes – big, small and in-between. While the mammoth plants churn out the state’s cash crop of pizza mozzarella, smaller plants help put Wisconsin on the map for high quality artisan cheese. The past two U.S. Champion cheesemakers are both from Wisconsin, and are both small operations: Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms and Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese.

The pair are part of a growing trend. The USDA reported in May that of Wisconsin’s 126 cheese plants, last year, 93 manufactured at least one type of specialty cheese, up from 80 plants in 2007. You can view a handy dandy table of specialty cheese production in Wisconsin by clicking here.

This is an exciting time to be in the cheese business, as more folks are continually joining the specialty cheese ranks. Not even counted in the census numbers is the growing trend in Wisconsin to forgo building a factory and instead partner with established creameries to rent space and churn out award-winning artisan cheese. A few examples come to mind:

  • Cesar’s Cheese: Cheesemaker Cesar Luis won the gold medal at the World Championship Cheese Contest for his string cheese this spring. He and wife Heydi own their own cheese vat, but rent space at and buy milk from Sassy Cow Creamery near Columbus.
  • Landmark Creamery: Cheesemaker Anna Landmark is crafting small-batch cow, sheep and water buffalo creations, such as Petit Nuage, Tallgrass and Arista at Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain and Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee. She was recently profiled in Edible Madison
  • Creme de la Coulee Artisan Cheese: Cheesemaker Bill Anderson is making artisan cheeses at Willow Creek Cheese in Fremont. His new St. Jenifer is a semi-soft washed-rind cheese, made in the style of a French Munster.
  • PastureLand Cooperative: Dairy farmer Bert Paris and four partner farms haul their grass-fed milk to cheesemakers where it is made into specialty cheeses, such as Grass Valley and Grass Kase. Both are available in Madison at Willy St. Coop and Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale.
  • Timothy Farmhouse Cheeses: Karen and Tim Kelley ship milk to Cheesemaker Katie Furhmann at LaClare Farms, where it is crafted into cheddars and BallyByron, a new American Original inspired by Double Gloucester.
  • Red Barn Family Farms: Veterinarian Tim and Paula Homan ship their Red Barn dairy milk both to Springside Cheese (where it’s made into World Champion Heritage Weis Cheddar) and to LaClare Farms, where Katie Fuhrmann crafts it into Cupola, a new American Original.
  • Koepke Family Farms: Dairy farmers John and Kim Koepke in Oconomowoc ship milk to Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, where it’s made into the LaBelle line of Gouda-style cheeses.
  • Bleu Mont Dairy: last but not least, there is the venerable Cheesemaker Willi Lehner, who perfected the don’t-build-a-cheese-factory-model, and makes cheese at four different Wisconsin factories. His Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana were runner-up for Best in Show last year at the American Cheese Society.

What an exciting time to be a cheese eater in Wisconsin! With more than 600 types, styles and varieties of cheese to choose from, we cheese geeks have never had it so good. Here’s looking forward to the next five years of cheesemaking growth in America’s Dairyland.

One thought on “Small Cheesemaking Operations Lead Growth in U.S. Cheese Industry

  1. Jeanne – you saved me 🙂 Thanks for this coverage… needed this data for a project but could not find it. Thought I'd facebooked it, but I guess not. You have great Google ranking! Way to go!!

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