feta cheese

Specialty cheese has been a growth category for Wisconsin.

There were 83.1 million pounds of specialty cheese produced in the Badger State in 1993. That was the first year the state's division of USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service began tracking the category. At the time, specialty cheese accounted for 4.1 percent of the state's curd production with 43 of 158 plants creating product in the category.

Just 22 years later, the nation's largest cheese-producing state created 722 million pounds of specialty cheese . . . that's up over 850 percent. And last year alone, specialty cheese production grew 8 percent from 666 million to 722 million pounds. These days, 93 of the 127 plants create unique cheeses, which truly earn the Wisconsin its moniker "The Cheeseheads."

Put another way, Wisconsin produces the most cheese - 26 percent of the nation's total. Of that total, 24 percent is "specialty cheese."

What are the leading specialty cheese varieties?

1. Feta tops the list; 86.8 million pounds from 10 plants; up 6 percent from 2014.
2. Hispanic; 87.2 million pounds from 13 plants; up 7.2 percent.
3. Parmesan Wheel; 57.5 million pounds from 6 plants, up 1 percent.
4. Asiago; 31.9 million pounds from 14 plants; up 3.1 percent.
5. Cheddar (specialty types); 27.6 million pounds from 36 plants; down 4.4 percent.
6. Gorgonzola; 19.2 million pounds from 10 plants; up 3.5 percent.
7. Gouda; 11.8 million pounds from 21 plants; up 3.1 percent.
8. Romano Wheel; 9.9 million pounds from 6 plants; down 7.3 percent.
9. Italian Fontina; 9.2 million pounds from 9 plants; up 1 percent.
10. Colby (specialty types); 8.1 million pounds from 10 plants; up 0.3 percent.
11. Farmers; 1.5 million pounds from 11 plants; up 0.8 percent.
12. Limburger; 481 thousand pounds from 1 plant; down 11.3 percent.

That's the top dozen . . . but it doesn't include even half of the total. To prove the uniqueness of the cheese production, there were an additional 59 varieties created at 59 plants across the state. That 381.1 million pounds of cheese accounted for 52.7 percent of the entire specialty cheese category.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
May 23, 2016
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