Wisconsin Cheesemaker's Association awards highest honor, other awards at 2022 CheeseExpo

Samantha Hendrickson
Wisconsin State Farmer

Twelve individuals across the field of dairy and cheesemaking will be recognized by the Wisconsin Cheesemaker's Association at the 2022 Cheese Expo for "outstanding work in the dairy processing industry." 

These individuals will be recognized by the Wisconsin Cheesemaker's Association at the 2022 Cheese Expo for "outstanding work in the dairy processing industry."  Top row from left:  Andy Dederich, Art Zimmer, Bob Wagner and Cathy Strange. Middle row from left, James Manning, Jeff Giffin, Mark Johnson and Paul Kindstedt. Bottom row from left, Richard Wagner, Steve Ottiger, Steve Yeager and Van Salmans.

The expo, taking place in Milwaukee, Wisc., is planned for April 14-22 at the Wisconsin Center. Over 4,000 cheese industry leaders, suppliers, marketers and others are expected to attend. 

Here are the WCMA's awards and their recipients:

Andy Dederich: Life Member Award

Andy Dederich will receive the Association’s highest honor: the WCMA Life Member Award. 

WCMA has offered the Life Member Award since 1918, and Dederich will be the 91st recipient. According to a WCMA press released, the award recognizes people who have played a significant role in the success of the Association through leadership, support, and service to the institution and its activities.

Dederich is current a senior account manager with Chr. Hansen, Inc. of Milwaukee. Prior to starting with Chr. Hansen in 2014, Dederich held prominent roles in other key companies within the dairy industry, such as DSM Food Specialties and Cargill.

Dederich has played a significant role in advocating for supplier and cheese manufacturer participation in WCMA through membership and activities, and actively works to encourage the growth and development of the Championship Cheese Auction.

He served on the WCMA Board of Directors from 2006-2011.

Van Salsman: Luminary Award 

WCMA’s newest award the Luminary Award, recognizes the contributions of leaders in dairy product sales and marketing. Individuals receiving this award introduced new concepts, products or innovative ideas to drive sales nationally or internationally. 

Van Salmans founded one of the nation’s most recognizable cheese sales and marketing organizations – Salmans and Associates—in 1981.

He evolved this small firm into a high-volume sales powerhouse, representing major cheese manufacturers to foodservice wholesalers, food processors, restaurant chains and industrial users in the Upper Midwest and select markets around the U.S.

Salsman has worked closely with the Center of Dairy Research and cheese manufacturers to customize products to meet food service, retail, and industrial demand. He also served on the boards of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association and the American Blue Cheese Association.

Cathy Strange: Luminary Award

The second recipient of the Luminary award, Cathy Strange, joined Whole Foods Market in 1990 and has a wealth of food industry experience and expertise.

As the global executive coordinator of specialty, she seeks out products that meet Whole Foods Market’s strict Quality Standards.

For 11 straight years, she has served as an expert judge for the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest and the World Championship Cheese Contest.

She serves as New World President and an ambassador for the distinguished international Guilde des Fromagers de Saint-Uguzon. Strange also received the French Legion of Merit for Agriculture and the Coltellino d'Oro award from the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano.

 The American Cheese Society honored Strange in 2015 with the Lifetime Service Award.

Jeff Giffin: Cheese Industry Champion

The Cheese Industry Champion award is given to industry leaders who, through their everyday business decisions, have created tremendous opportunity for others.

Jeff Giffin is the executive chairman/chairman of the board for Masters Gallery Foods. He previously served as president and CEO of the company from 2006-2016.

Under Jeff’s leadership, the company has more than quadrupled sales revenue, volume and employee count. He has developed lasting industry relationships and has played a significant role in establishing Masters Gallery Foods as a leader in both retail and foodservice channels. 

Bob and Richard Wagner: Cheese Industry Champions

Cousins Bob and Richard Wagner are the third generation in a family cheesemaking tradition that first began with their grandfather, Jacob, in 1923, later becoming Weyauwega Milk Products in 1961.

Bob brought his accounting training to drive the business and became company president in 1984.

Richard earned his engineering degree and doctorate in food science, and helped to build a company always on the cutting edge of technology.

Under the pair’s leadership, the company has been a pioneer in the dairy processing industry through several successful mergers. Weyauwega became Trega Foods in January 2003 and made news again five years later with the sale of Trega to Agropur, Canada’s largest dairy cooperative.

James Manning: Distinguished Service Award 

The WCMA Distinguished Service Award is reserved for respected and highly valued supplier partners to the cheese manufacturing industry. WCMA members are allowed to vote for the recipients of this award. 

James Manning is the president and founder of EDCO Food Products in Green Bay, Wisc.

With five decades of knowledge and experience, his innovations in pepper and pickle processing have contributed to tremendous strides for the dairy processing industry.

In 1992, he opened a state-of-the-art facility in Mexico. The plant’s proximity to EDCO’s contracted growers ensures fresh raw materials and adherence to high food safety and environmental standards. Manning’s long-standing relationships with dairy processing suppliers helped EDCO efficiently deliver high-quality pepper products to cheese plants across the United States.

Art Zimmer: Distinguished Service Award 

Art Zimmer began his foray into United States dairy processing in 1975, when he forged a successful connection between German energy-saving technology and the U.S. market need for large capacity units of highly sanitary design.

A trailblazer in evaporator technology, Art established his own Zimmer Corporation in 1994. After a highly successful run, the Carlisle Companies acquired the corporation in 2000 to become part of CPS, which in turn was purchased by Tetra Pak.

Rather than retire, Art founded Caloris in July 2006. In 2014, Art and his partners sold the majority of Caloris to outside investors.

Dr. Mark Johnson: Babcock Award 

The WCMA Babcock Award, named for the famed agricultural chemist and University of Wisconsin professor Stephen Babcock, recognizes the contributions of those in education or affiliate organizations partnering with cheesemakers in the pursuit of dairy industry innovation and excellence. 

Dr. Mark Johnson serves as assistant director, "distinguished scientist," and a member of the senior management team at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research.

In addition to teaching cheesemaking and grading, his main research interests include developing manufacturing and ripening protocols for specialty cheeses and solving industry cheese quality issues.

Johnson served as a technical judge for the U.S. and World Championship Cheese Contests, the American Cheese Society, and the Australian Grand Dairy Awards. He has been with CDR for more than 30 years and holds a Ph.D. in Food Science.

Dr. Paul Kindstedt: Babcock Award

Dr. Paul Kindstedt is a Professor of Food Science in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont.

He has authored numerous research articles and invited papers for conferences on dairy chemistry and cheese science, as well as many book chapters. His research focuses on crystal formation in cheese, and their effect on cheese appearance and flavor.

Kindstedt received national professional recognition for both his research and teaching and currently serves as the co-director of the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont.

Steve Ottiger: Vanguard Award

The WCMA Vanguard Award is intended to recognize cheesemakers or cheese manufacturing employees whose work helped to blaze new trails in dairy operations. 

Steve Ottiger earned his cheesemaker title in his native Switzerland before arriving in Wisconsin in 1959. In 1961, he began a long career producing award-winning, Swiss-style cheeses in the U.S.

For 34 years, Ottiger worked at Alpine Alpa in Wilmot, Ohio, where his experience included a plant upgrade that included the first Casomatic cheesemaking system in the U.S.

In 1997, Ottiger helped current WCMA Board Member Richard Guggisberg establish a highly automated Swiss cheese plant whose success continues to this day. Guggisberg Cheese earned the Ohio Grand Champion Cheesemaker in eight of the last 10 years, as well as many Best of Class wins at the U.S. and World Championship Cheese Contests.

Steve Yeager: Vanguard Award 

Steve Yeager found his passion for cheesemaking during a summer job at Borden Foods in Wisconsin in 1976. That passion turned into full-time cheesemaking and product quality and grading roles.

In 1994, Steve moved to California and began his career at Hilmar Cheese Company as Supervisor. He advanced to whey Lab Manager, Plant Manager, and then the Cheese Technical Manager at Hilmar’s massive cheese plant in Dalhart, Texas.

Steve now serves as Cheese Product Specialist, R&D, where he continues to make sure that Hilmar cheese exceeds customers’ highest expectations.

Samantha Hendrickson can be reached at 414-223-5383 or shendrickson@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @samanthajhendr.