Cheese production volumes keep increasing in state

Ray Mueller

MADISON – Wisconsin's claim on being the nation's cheese capital continues to stand, according to production data for 2016 released in late April by the state's field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

In a multiyear effort to reintroduce America to dairy, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy - in partnership with America's Dairy Farm Families and Importers - is launching "Undeniably DairyT," the first category campaign of its kind.

For the second consecutive year, Wisconsin's cheese production topped 3 billion pounds. With a bit of help from the 2016 February 29th Leap Day, the state's total of just over 3.239 billion pounds of cheese for the year was an increase of 2 percent or 235 million pounds from 2015.

The state's production accounted for nearly 27 percent of the nation's record high of 12.074 billion pounds in 2016. Cheese production in the United States has hit new record highs during each of the past 25 years. The total has doubled from the just over 6 billion pounds in both 1990 and 1991.

Cheese Types

Since 1999, the volume of Italian type cheeses produced in Wisconsin has exceeded that of American types. The gap between them has increased nearly every year, culminating in 2016 with totals of nearly 1.642 billion pounds of Italian type cheeses and of 964.615 million pounds of American types – both of which are record annual highs.

Mozzarella cheese, most of which is used to make pizzas, accounted for more than 1.092 billion pounds or 66.5 percent of the Italian type cheese production in Wisconsin during 2016. The hard Italian types, which include Provolone, Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago, made up all but 6.1 percent of the other production in the Italian type category in the state.

American type cheeses include Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, and both stirred and washed curds. In those categories, Wisconsin's totals in 2016 were 524.5 million pounds of Cheddar in either 640 or 40-pound blocks, 218.3 million pounds of Monterey Jack, 83.8 million pounds of Colby, and nearly 128 million pounds of other types such as cream cheese but not cottage cheese.

Breakout numbers were also reported for other types of cheese made in the state. The 2016 totals were 85.4 million pounds of Hispanic type cheeses, 60.232 million pounds of Muenster, and 18.2 million pounds of Swiss cheese.

Plant Data

The report indicated that 128 plants in Wisconsin made cheese in 2016 – 41 of which had a production of more than 25 million pounds while 34 made less than 1 million pounds during the year. However, the plants with a production of more than 25 million pounds accounted for 2.8 billion or 86 percent of the year's total of 3.239 billion pounds.

Of the 66 plants making Cheddar cheese, 36 made less than 1 million pounds in 2016 while 16 made at least 10 million pounds. With 58 plants making Italian type cheeses, 28 produced more than 10 million pounds while 21 made less than 1 million pounds in 2016. For mozzarella cheese, 17 of the 38 manufacturing plants made more than 10 million pounds and 14 produced less than 1 million pounds during the year.

Other Dairy Products

The production of dry whey also hit record highs during 2016 in Wisconsin. The year's totals were nearly 313 million pounds of human food grade and 4.39 million pounds for animal food. Other production totals in 2016 were more than 259 million pounds of lactose and 104 million pounds of human food grade whey protein concentrate.

Processed cheese and cheese food totals were also reported for 2016. The processed cheese foods and spreads and cold pack cheese and cheese food categories were down significantly from 2015 with respective totals of 184 million and nearly 22 million pounds in 2016 but the processed cheese volume hit a record high of more than 703 million pounds in 2016.

The report did not address butter production in Wisconsin but the total production for the United States in 2016 was at a record high of 1.889 billion pounds. This broke the butter production record which existed since 1941.

Production of those dairy commodities was supported by record high milk volumes of 212.436 billion pounds in the United States and 30.123 billion pounds in Wisconsin during 2016. Other states in the top five for milk production were California with 40.5 billion pounds, New York with 14.8 billion, Idaho with 14.7 billion, and Michigan with 10.9 billion pounds.