The Cheese Insider

Wisconsin has long been known as America’s dairyland – just look at one of our license plates to be reminded of that. Cheese in Wisconsin is more than a good bag of curds, or a slice of American cheese, especially with the fast growing world of artisan cheese.

The term “artisan” is being used more and more in a wide array of products: artisan bread, artisan meats, even a new line of chips made by none other than Frito Lay. What does the word artisan mean when it relates to cheese? For a cheese to be called an artisan cheese the following must be true:

1) It has to be made by hand in an open vat (not a closed vat run by computers)

2) It has to be an original recipe

3) It has to be made in small batches (vs. a large plant that produces thousands of pounds at a time)

Wisconsin has been a leader in the world of artisan cheese, dominating national competitions during the past five years. As a matter of fact, during the 2011 United States Cheese Championships, Wisconsin cheese makers won 60 percent of the awards that were handed out, the state that finished second was New York with just over 6 percent, California won just over 4.5 percent.

Ten years ago, Wisconsin had six “artisan” cheese makers. Today, the state boasts more than 35, and the numbers keep growing. The state of Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that requires all it’s cheese makers to be licensed – we take cheese very seriously here.

Next time you want to try a good artisan cheese made here in Wisconsin ask a knowledgeable cheesemonger (that is the person that works behind the counter in a top line cheese shop), tell him/her what type of cheese you like, and let them introduce you to something you will enjoy.

Life is good, eat good cheese!

Michael C. Thomas is co-owner of Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese with his wife Janice. With locations in Ellison Bay and Egg Harbor, they aim to bring the best of Wisconsin artisan cheeses to Door County, and with “The Cheese Insider” Michael hopes to bring all things cheese to readers of the Pulse.