Much like dairy farms, cheese processing plants come in all shapes and sizes.
This is certainly true in Wisconsin, the nation’s top cheesemaking state. Last year, cheese production in the Badger State topped 3.239 billion pounds. That was up 5.5 percent from the year before and set a new record.
Some of those cheese plants make up a larger slice of the pie. Slightly less than a third (32 percent) of Wisconsin’s cheese plants are producing a majority — 86.5 percent — of the cheese. These numbers come from the recently released Wisconsin 2017 Agricultural Statistics report.
The top 32 percent, or 42 plants, each produced 25 million or more pounds of cheese in 2016. Their total output for the year was 2.802 billion pounds. Another 17 plants made between 10 to 24.99 million pounds of cheese.
Fifteen plants produced 5 to 9.99 million pounds, while 21 plants made 1 to 4.99 million pounds. The less than 1-million-pounds category contained 34 plants.
In all, there were 128 plants producing cheese in Wisconsin in 2016. That was up one plant from the year before.
Over the past 20 years, Wisconsin cheese output grew by more than a billion pounds. In 1996, output was 2.096 billion pounds of cheese. There were 140 plants in the state that year, 12 more than in 2016.
In 1996, 30 plants were at that 25 million or more pounds of annual cheese threshold. Those plants combined to produce 1.5 billion pounds of cheese that year, or 70 percent of the state’s output. At that time, 23 plants were at the less than 1 million pounds of cheese level.