Jan. 4 2016 07:41 AM

One Wisconsin city rings in the New Year by dropping a big piece of cheese.

cheese drop
Photo credit: Plymouth Arts Center

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's an . . . 80-pound Styrofoam cheese wedge . . . falling from the sky . . . at midnight?

Yes, it is indeed. Dropping cheese from a 100-foot truck ladder has become a New Year's Eve tradition in Plymouth, Wis., the town where I grew up.

Plymouth is known to many as "The Cheese Capitol of the World." That's what past and current residents consider it, anyway, whether it is an official designation or not. From 1918 until the late 1950s, Plymouth was the site of the Wisconsin Cheese Exchange, where cheese commodity pricing was set for the country.

Today, the northeastern Wisconsin city is home to several manufacturers and packaged cheese converters including Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Sartori Foods, Sargento Foods, Masters Gallery Foods and Great Lakes Cheese. On top of that, some of the largest cold storage facilities for cheese are also located there. It is estimated that almost 15 percent of all cheese consumed in the United States is moved through Plymouth some time during manufacturing or distribution.

With this strong cheese presence, it is only fitting that a holiday celebration in the city would revolve around the dairy product. When the clock strikes 12 on New Year's Eve, it is not a big silver ball, but instead, a wedge of cheese that drops in downtown Plymouth.

The kick off to 2016 was the ninth year in a row where cheese falling from the sky signaled the start of the New Year. To make this year's event more family friendly, the cheese drop actually occurred at 10 p.m., but the music and snacks - including cheese, of course - continued until after midnight.

The "Big Cheese Drop" celebration has garnered much national attention and a spot on many lists of unique New Year's Eve traditions over the years. This year, it was the first item mentioned in MSN's report, "Weird things cities drop on New Year's Eve."

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The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master's degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor's from University of Wisconsin-Madison.