Behold the cheesemaker – a magician of milk who creates the world's most perfect food. An alchemist who, with four simple ingredients, makes cheeses as different as ricotta and romano, gouda and gorgonzola, and mozzarella and mascarpone. Without the cheesemaker, macaroni and cheese would be dry pasta, a grilled cheese sandwich would just be bread, and pizza would be burnt crust drowning in tomato sauce.
Here in Wisconsin, we get a little starstruck when a cheesemaker is in the house. Then again, it's hard to think about anything when you're daydreaming about the tastiest, highest-quality, most award-winning cheese in the world.
Take a spin through our website to meet some of the 1,200 cheesemakers in Wisconsin. Get answers to your burning questions about cheese, like "How is feta cheese made?", "What is burrata cheese?" and "Where can I get some more cheddar blue?" Or scroll down to learn more about how cheesemakers do that thing they do.
How does the cheesemaker turn a vat of unremarkable milk into the miracle of cheese? The process is simple to describe but painstaking to master.
Cheese starts off as milk from cows, sheep, goats, or even buffalo. Cheesemakers add a starter culture with bacteria to begin transforming lactose in the milk into lactic acid, and in some cheeses, to begin a process of fermentation. Rennet is added to coagulate the milk and separate the solid curd from the watery whey. Rennet may be animal rennet taken from the stomach linings of young ruminant animals, vegetable rennet from plants with coagulation properties, or microbial rennet that relies on yeast, fungi, and mold to curdle the milk.
After most of the whey is released, the curd may be cut, scalded, washed, salted, pressed, pulled, immersed in brine, or manipulated in other ways to create hundreds of varieties of cheese. Ultimately, cheesemakers press the curd into a cheese mold and leave it to age for a few days to a few years. During the aging, cheese may be continually washed to create washed-rind cheeses, pierced with needles to create blue cheeses, sprayed with yeast and mold to create bloomy cheeses, or exposed to smoke to create smoked cheese.
The job of a cheesemaker may include everything from raising and tending livestock to milking the animals and converting the milk to cheese. Cheesemakers must have a mastery of the science, chemistry, and techniques involved in making a variety of cheeses. And depending on the size of their operation, they may also be involved in the packaging, shipping, and sales of their products as well.
Many cheesemakers start by getting a job in a cheesemaking plant or taking an apprenticeship with an established cheesemaker to learn the craft. Others study cheesemaking in school and get a degree in food science.
Parmesan, one of the most popular cheeses in the world, starts much the same way as other cheeses, with starter culture and rennet being added to cow's milk. After the milk is curdled, the curd is broken up into very small pieces to release more whey. The curd is strained in muslin and pressed into large wheels before being immersed in a saltwater brine for up to three weeks. The wheels are then stored in an aging room for up to 36 months, where they are cleaned and turned about once per week.
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In Wisconsin, our cheesemakers have been perfecting old-world recipes and inventing new cheeses for 180 years – since before we were even a state. Today, Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that requires cheesemakers to have a license to make cheese – can you believe that? – and we have the only master cheesemaker program in the world apart from the one in Switzerland.
That just goes to show you how seriously we take cheese – and how much we revere our Wisconsin cheesemakers. So, next time you're browsing the cheese aisle at the supermarket, be sure to look for the Proudly Wisconsin Cheese badge on any chunk of cheese you pick up. That's when you know your cheese has been made by the best cheesemakers in the world.
Craving award-winning aged cheddar, pining for parmesan, or searching for a new cheese to try? The world’s best cheese is just a click away! Explore our directory of Wisconsin cheesemakers and retailers who offer online cheese shopping and get cheese shipped right to your door. What are you waiting for?
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In Wisconsin, we make more flavors, varieties, and styles of cheese than anywhere else in the world. We believe in tradition, producing everything from Italian classics, like parmesan and ricotta, to swiss cheese and cheddar varieties. But every Wisconsin cheesemaker is an innovator as well, which is why we have so many Wisconsin originals, like colby and muenster. Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, potatoes au gratin, or a charcuterie board, Wisconsin cheese makes every dish and recipe tastier.