The Cheese Insider: Fun Dairy Facts

by Michael Thomas

We all know that Wisconsin is the king of cheesemaking in North America. Our dairy dominance and the economic impact of this industry in our state are hard for anyone to dispute. Although the total number of dairy farms in Wisconsin continues to shrink, the total number of cows and the milk they produce is growing. The sad fact is that a small, family-run dairy farm has a difficult time surviving. Today they are being replaced with very large “mega” farms, some with several thousand cows.

With the emergence of so many specialty and artisan cheeses, it has given small dairy farms an opportunity to succeed. By taking their milk and creating value added products such as cheese, ice cream or yogurt, the small dairy farmer has now created a new revenue stream. The dairy farmers in our state have the expertise and support of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the University of Wisconsin, and The Center for Dairy Research to help farmers find ways to help increase their revenue.

Today we are seeing more and more “farmstead cheese” (cheese that is made on the farm where the animals reside) operations in our state, including a goat dairy and cheese company right here in Door County – Jesse and Rachel Johnson of Door County Creamery in Sister Bay.

Our cheese shop and mail order business helps support a number of “farmstead” cheesemakers here in Wisconsin, including the Johnsons, the Penterman Farm of Thorp – Marieke Gouda, Uplands Cheese of Dodgeville, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and Nordic Creamery of Westby, just to name a few.

And here are some fun dairy facts:


 10, 290

Number of Wisconsin dairy farms


Number of dairy cows

21,869 pounds/2,543 gallons

Average milk production per cow per year

27,795,000,000 gallons

Total milk production in Wisconsin

124 dairy cows

Average number of cows per farm



 2,891,422,000 pounds

Total Wisconsin cheese production


Wisconsin cheese production (percentage of US total)

640,000,000 pounds (22% of Wisconsin cheese production)

Specialty cheese production in Wisconsin


Specialty cheese production (percentage of US total)


Number of cheese plants in Wisconsin


Wisconsin cheesemakers (percentage of total) awards at 2015 US Championship

 34 pounds (up from 11 pounds in 1970)

U.S. cheese consumption, pounds per capita

One final note: In the most recent “Cheese Insider,” I failed to mention that one of the ribbon winners from this year’s American Cheese Society judging competition in Providence, Rhode Island was a local cheese company. I was in attendance at this year’s award ceremony and loudly applauded whenever a cheesemaker from Wisconsin won a coveted ribbon. I failed to recognize one of the winners, Rosewood Dairy, a second place ribbon for its Pesto Farmers Cheese. I find out later that Rosewood Dairy is actually the name of the cheese plant in Algoma for Renard’s Cheese, owned by Chris and Ann Renard right here in Door County. I want to give a big shout out to them for this award. They are fantastic people and great cheesemakers.

I urge you to eat good cheese from Wisconsin. There are so many great ones to try. You will be glad you did.

Sources: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

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