Wisconsin Agriculture – Part III of Series – Wisconsin Cheese


Wisconsin Dairy – Cheese

Cheese Produced in Wisconsin

A previous report highlighted that 90% of Wisconsin’s milk production goes towards making cheese.

Wisconsin is the top producer of cheese in the United States, with nearly 1,200 licensed cheesemakers and a production of over 600 types, styles and varieties. Wisconsin cheesemakers produce 27% pf the nation’s cheese; 3.37 billion pounds in 2017. According to the USDA, Wisconsin has 132 cheese plants, 99 manufacturing at least one type of specialty cheese during 2017.

Cheese Exports and Geographical Indications

A geographical indicator (GI) is a designation that a product has been produced, or is from, a specific geographical location. In April the European Union (EU) signed an agreement with Mexico to enforce GIs on cheese, meaning Wisconsin cheesemakers can not sell their cheese in Mexico using GI names. (The EU is negotiating other agreements with South Korea, Vietnam and Canada that could also impose the GI enforcement.)

Some of those names include:

  • Asiago
  • Fontina
  • Gorgonzola
  • Parmesan
  • Provolone
  • Taleggio
  • Gouda
  • Feta
  • Muenster
  • Romano

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), origin-linked registration increased the price of the final product between 20 and 50 percent.  The report states that the use of origin-linked products can be used as part of marketing tool that “can be used for both the protection of specific products, as well as a way to enhance the provision of public goods.” The report also highlights that while the positive effects of GIs has been well demonstrated with items like Champagne, “There has been relatively little research conducted on the economic sustainability of GIs in general.” While GIs have been in place on numerous products, including cheese, they haven’t always been enforced.  The new agreement between Mexico and the EU is a change in the enforcement of GIs on cheese.

Wisconsin based Sartori has been in the news lately discussing some of the GI issues affecting their company. (NPR Podcast, US Dairy Export Council). In an article by the New York Times, Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president of trade policy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council said, “The Italians did not build the markets here for their cheese. We built the markets for Italian cheeses in Mexico.”


In addition to the GIs impacting Wisconsin cheesemakers, retaliatory tariffs are impacting Wisconsin’s international cheese markets. According to a September 19 report in the Hoard’s Dairyman by UW Extension, “Retaliatory tariffs imposed by Mexico and China beginning in July is having some impact on dairy exports. It appears that Mexico in anticipation of their 25% tariff on U.S. cheese increased cheese imports from U.S. by 43% in June compared to a year ago because July imports were 1% lower than a year ago. July cheese exports to China dropped 56% from a year ago with whey exports down 26%. With China being the largest U.S. market for whey products July whey exports were 8% lower than a year ago, the lowest whey exports in more than two years.”

Cheese Surplus

There is currently 1.4 billion pounds of cheese in refrigerated storage according to the USDA, the most since the USDA began tracking the statistics a century ago. Cheese is an efficient way to store surplus milk, and stockpiles have been growing. Two years ago, President Obama spent $20 million to try to reduce the cheese surplus (11 million pounds), which was at an all time high, but today the stockpiles are 16 percent higher.  Stockpiles of cheese have not been this high since the 1980s when the US government bought surplus cheese to help support the dairy industry. The USDA figures show that Wisconsin had 3.4 billion pounds of surplus in 2017, and California had 2.5 billion pounds.