One of the rites of spring for cheesemakers is attending a conference in Wisconsin, and the 2005 Wisconsin Cheese Industry Conference is right around the corner.

By several measures, the show will be the largest since the format was created in 1995, says John Umhoefer, exec. Dir. of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Assn., (WCMA) one of the two event organizers. "We will have more tabletop exhibits than we've ever had, we've added another track of seminars, so that we now have 3 concurrent seminars, and we are anticipating more than 1,000 people in attendance, so we could set a record."

Working together with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, the WCMA conducts a conference that focuses on both the technical and the business aspects of the cheese industry. And, like the International Cheese Technology Exposition, which alternates years with the conference, it features a reception and auction linked to a world-class cheese competition. At La Crosse, that would be the United States Championship Cheese Contest.

Umhoefer says the La Crosse location is ideal for a Midwest intensive show.

Scheduled for April 20-21 this year, the conference includes an opening morning seminar and an afternoon tabletop expo on Wednesday. Thursday will feature the three tracts of concurrent sessions.

Also on Wednesday, the conference will recognize Glanbia Foods USA with a corporate profile that will include a presentation from the chief executive of Twins Falls, Idaho-Cheese and Whey manufacturer. "Everyone is excited about Glanbia because of that big Southwest Cheese operation they are building in New Mexico," Umhoefer says. "So we were thrilled to have their President and CEO, Jeff Williams speaking on Wednesday." William's presentation will take place at 11:15.

Cheese knowledge and supplier capabilities

The seminars at this year's conference offer a real opportunity for attendees to increase their cheese industry knowledge.

Seminar topics will include enhancing operations, expanding milk production in the Midwest, crisis management planning, and updates on cheese and whey research.

The tabletop exposition runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and will feature some of the most important suppliers to the cheese industry offering everything from starter cultures to vats and packaging. Exhibition space sold out in February, and there are 157 companies exhibiting.

Networking and socializing

Wednesday and Thursday's schedules include complementary lunches. Wednesday's is sponsored by DSM Food Specialties and Thursday's by Danisco. Wednesday night's reception, hosted by Chr. Hansen will feature an auction of the gold medal cheeses from the 2005 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest (see sidebar). On Thursday Degussa Food Ingredients sponsors a reception to honor the champions. The awards banquet follows from 6 to 8 p.m. The awards banquet is a ticketed event.

Who Makes the Most?

According to the USDA Dairy Products Annual summary for 2003, five U.S. states together produced 70% of the total 8.60 billion lbs of cheese made in America that year. They are:

  • Wisconsin 25%
  • California 21%
  • New York 8%
  • Idaho 8%
  • Minnesota 7%

Where the Winners Are

Since expanding to become a national competition in 1981, the biennial United States Championship Cheese Contest, which taps expert technical judges from all around the country, has named 12 grand champion cheeses. Of those champions, 10 were made in Wisconsin, one in New York and one in California.

How Much Do We Eat?

Americans do love cheese, and increasingly so. According to USDA, per capita consumption has now reached 31 lbs each year. That's up from 20.5 lbs in 1983.

Big Cheeses in the U.S.

Cheddar, historically the biggest cheese in terms of production in the United States, was edged out by Mozzarella in 2003-largely a testament to Americans' insatiable appetite for extra-cheesy pizza. In 2003, 32.6% of all cheese made in America was Mozzarella, while 32% was Cheddar.

And We Thought We Loved Cheese?

While Americans are enjoying more cheese than ever before, we still lag well behind the world's top cheese-consuming nations. Data from the 2002 FAOSTAT Agricultural Database show that Greece leads at 56 pounds consumed per person per year, followed by France (54 lbs), Italy (50 lbs), Denmark (47 lbs), and Germany (45 lbs).

Distributing Source: Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, 2005

Sidebar: Milwaukee to Host Cheese Competition

More than 700 individual cheese entries will vie for the national distinction at the upcoming United States Championship Cheese Contest, taking place March 14-16 at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee. The competition, hosted biennially by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA), is the oldest and largest of its kind in the nation. It's also the most all-encompassing, judging products ranging from unique farmstead cheeses to familiar large-volume varieties found in supermarkets nationwide.

Held simultaneously with Host Midwest, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association's annual exposition, the contest is a unique event within an event. Attending chefs, restaurateurs and the public at large can watch the judges evaluate entries to discover the nation's best cheeses. WCMA will also provide displays, guided tastings and workshops to enhance public awareness of the breadth of American cheeses and educate visitors about what to look for in great cheese.

John Umhoefer, executive director of WCMA, said well over 700 entries in 42 classes are expected this year. That compares to 182 entries in 1981, the year the contest expanded from a Wisconsin-only competition to become a national event.

Working in teams of two, technical judges recruited from around the country will evaluate each entry starting with a perfect score of 100 points. Deductions are then made for defects in areas such as flavor, body and texture, salt content, color and finish. "Each cheese is judged on its own merits against what is considered to be perfection for that particular product," Umhoefer noted. Scores from each judge are then averaged with those of his or her partner to determine the final score for each entry, with the highest scores in each class receiving gold, silver and bronze medals.

The final judging round, with all Gold Medal winners vying for the title of U.S. Grand Champion Cheese, takes place on Wednesday, March 16. Defending that title this year is Wisconsin farmstead cheesemaker Mike Gingrich, who took the top prize in 2003 for his Pleasant Ridge Reserve Beaufort-style cheese.


The conference Registration Desk will open at 7 a.m. Wednesday in the lobby of the La Crosse Center and remain open until 7:00 p.m.


9 a.m. to Noon

Opening Seminar: Ideas from the Demand Side. Hosted by Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research and Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Noon to 1 p.m.

DSM Food Specialties Luncheon

1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

TableTop Expo: The largest-ever tabletop exposition will feature 157 exhibits.

5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Chr. Hansen Inc. hosts an exciting evening of memorable cheeses and refreshments, highlighted by the sale of gold medal cheeses from the 2005 U. S. Championship Cheese Contest.


9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Concurrent Seminar A

Enhancing Operational Excellence

Concurrent Seminar B

Expanding Milk Production in the Upper Midwest

Concurrent Seminar C

Cheese Research Update

Noon to 1 p.m.

Danisco Luncheon

1:15 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Concurrent Seminar D

Crisis Management Planning

Concurrent Seminar E

Building Sales in a Changing World

Concurrent Seminar F

Nutrition and Whey Research Update

5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Join Degussa Food Ingredients for a reception honoring the medal winning cheesemakers in the 2005 United States Championship Cheese Contest.

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

United States Champions Awards Banquet

The highlight of the year as Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association lauds the nation's best cheesemakers and buttermakers.