Cheesemakers are coming to Wisconsin for the International Cheese Technology Expo.  It’s the largest cheese and it provides a great opportunity to look at the latest cheese trends, with a Dairy State focus.  Articles by David Phillips and Marilyn Wilkinson

The largest cheese, butter and whey exposition in the United States returns to Madison, Wis., next month.

The International Cheese Technology Exposition features world-class seminars, outstanding networking events and a focused, concise exhibit of the world’s best technology, ingredients and ideas devoted to the manufacture of cheese and related products.

The expo will be held April 22-24 at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center.

“This is the largest ICTE in the 26-year history of the show,” explains John Umhoefer, executive director of Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA).  “The exhibit floor will have 313 booths and nearly 200 exhibiting companies displaying the latest technology and services for the cheese industry.”

The floor space was completely sold out by mid-February.

When the show was last held, in 2006, 223 companies involved in the manufacture, processing and packaging of cheese and related dairy products attended the ICTE. In all, nearly 2,000 industry manufacturers and suppliers attended the ICTE. Cheese company attendees included cheese company executive level and  plant managers, cheesemakers, and lab/technical personnel. Cheese companies in 33 states attended the most recent ICTE, as well as cheese company representatives from 12 countries around the globe.

In addition to a jam-packed expo, the ICTE offers a full conference program and this year’s program is filled with timely informative sessions focused on cheese and whey.

Opening day programming is focused on advanced cheese marketing. Speakers will address advanced marketing concepts and challenges as the cheese industry departs its commodity mindset. Topics will include the challenge of bringing the right product to market, and a look at cheese from the buyer’s perspective.

On Thursday the program focus shifts to whey, and  it will include a market and price outlook, an international market analysis and presentation of a start up model for a whey processing operation.   

For the first time this year the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association will host its official annual meeting during the Danisco Luncheon on Thursday. Umhoefer will present board member recognition, officer announcements, and an overview of  WCMA activities. The meeting will begin at noon and will adjourn at 1 p.m.

As always, a major attraction to the ICTE will be the auction of gold medal cheeses from the World Championship Cheese Contest. This event is more than an incredible opportunity to acquire the best cheeses in the world. The auction also facilitates execution of the World Championship Cheese Contest and directly funds five, $2,000 scholarships awarded to top students prior to the bidding.

In addition, the auction funds the Member Education Initiative at Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, which reimburses members that enroll their staff at workshops and short courses offered by the University of Wisconsin system.

And for the first time this year, each day on the exhibit floor will close with a bang. The ICTE will give away a 52” HD Compatible TV at the close of the exhibit hours on both Wednesday and Thursday. Dairy manufacturer attendees are eligible to win; eligible entrants must enter their name for the drawing. The winner, and from the drawing must be present to win. Cash option and runner-up prizes will also be available.

World-class competition

The World Cheese Championship takes place a month prior to the conference, and is also held in Madison. This year it was scheduled for March 11-13.

WCMA has expanded the selection of entry classes from 51 to 79, reflecting the proliferation of specialty and artisan cheeses seen in the industry.

“This contest has always been about growing and changing to reflect the industry” said WCMA’s Umhoefer. “Our contest committee added these additional classes to accommodate the explosion of specialty and artisan cheeses being produced, both nationally and internationally. By expanding the number of classes offered, cheesemakers are able to enter their products in the most appropriate categories.”

WCMA has hosted the World Championship Cheese Contest since 1957. The 2006 contest broke all previous records with 1,795 entries from 18 nations.

For the 2008 event, WCMA has invited judges from around the world to join judges from the United States. In all, 22 cheese experts (11 from nations outside the U.S. and 11 from U.S.) were to evaluate entries.

Madison is one of the most beautiful and lively capital cities in the U.S. There are a number of hotels offering special rates, for ICTE, and three will also offer shuttle service to the Alliant Center:

Sheraton Hotel
Location of ICTE Hospitality Suites
$105 Single / $119 Double
Reservations due: March 21, 2008

Clarion Suites Madison
Location of ICTE VIP Rooms
$101 Single / $101 Double
Reservations due: March 21, 2008

Holiday Inn Express
$79 Single / $89 Double
Reservations due: March 22, 2008

Several others accommodation options and registration details can be found on at


WCMA is the chief organizer of the ICTE and the World Cheese Championship, but many sponsors make contributions to help make it possible. These include:

Alcan Packaging
Allied Blending & Ingredients
Applied Science Inc.
Cargill Salt/Cargill Texturizing Solutions
Chr. Hansen Inc.
Cryovac/Sealed Air Corp.
Curwood Inc.
Danisco USA Inc.
DCI Inc.
DeLaval Cleaning Solutions
Filtration Engineering Co. Inc.
Food Safety Net Services
Fristam Pumps USA
Glacier Transit & Storage
G-M-I Inc.
Hydrite Chemical Co.
International Fiber Corporation
International Machinery Exchange
Kelley Supply
Koch Membrane Systems
Kusel Equipment Co.
Masters Gallery Foods Inc.
Nutricepts Inc.
Oshkosh Cheese Sales & Storage
Packaging Corporation of America
Packaging Tape Inc.
POWER Engineers Inc.
R. Mueller Service & Equipment Co.
Stoelting Process Equipment
Südmo North America Inc.
TriCore AEA
Urschel Laboratories Inc.
WI Aging & Grading Cheese Inc.

Cheese: 5,000 Years Old and Still Oh-So Trendy

The trends this year include locally made products, the cheeseball makeover and cheese with beer.

Contributed by Marilyn Wilkinson

MADISON, Wis.-After 5,000 years, cheese is still riding the crest of food trends.  Not only do Americans love cheese, one of the world’s oldest foods, but America is now making more and more world-class cheeses.

In fact, in Wisconsin-which leads the country in cheesemaking-a real cheese renaissance is in progress.  The overarching food trend that favors small batch, handmade products, minimally processed, natural ingredients and caring, ecologically correct farmers is paving the way for more outstanding specialty and artisanal American cheeses. The credo of “grow naturally, harvest locally” is all pervasive.

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB), a nonprofit farmer-funded organization, closely monitors food news and trends as part of its cheese marketing efforts, conducting an annual year-end analysis of food trends and their impact on cheese. Americans now consume more than 32.5 lbs of cheese per person and this is projected to grow to 36 lbs by 2016, according to government predictions.

“While projected growth in cheese consumption is great news, just as exciting are predictions for a future full of extraordinary original and traditional artisanal cheeses,” says Marilyn Wilkinson, director of product communications for WMMB.  “In many ways, our cheesemakers are rediscovering the past when farmstead operations, pasture grazing and the artistry of aging cheeses were the norm.”  In Wisconsin, specialty cheeses continue to claim a larger share of total production each year, now at about 16% of all cheeses made in the state.

New in restaurants

American chefs continue to initiate trends with their ever-imaginative quest for new ideas and uses that eventually impact supermarket shoppers and home cooks.  Having established cheese courses as a mainstay menu offering in white tablecloth establishments, upscale chefs are now pushing the limits with new cheese accompaniments. Watch for nut and seed brittles, chutneys spiced with other au courant flavors such as cardamom, pomegranate and quince and beverages that deviate from the standard wine and beer offerings.  Sparkling cider, tea and coffee-all are great cheese accompaniments.  And so are spirits.  With its caramel tones, bourbon is especially welcoming to salty and nutty cheeses. Mixologists (née bartenders) in their own right are trendy, and they’re stirring up cocktails that elevate bar food and small plates, both of which are friendly to artisanal and ethnic cheese varieties.

Other cheesy developments to watch for in restaurants:

• Reinvented, sophisticated cheese balls featuring one-of-a-kind artisanal styles

• Cheese fondues with beer

• Savory, not-so-sweet desserts that feature spices and cheese, for example a Parmesan toast with local peaches and olive oil ice cream featured on one Midwestern dessert menu, or a black pepper shortbread with Asian pears and fresh cheese on another

• Mom-inspired food that updates classics like tamale pie, cheese grits and  macaroni and cheese

• Latin food that expands its borders to include Central and South America, where milky, fresh cheeses often accent local and Old World-influenced cuisines

• An expansion of the “global table,” which will incorporate American cheeses into emerging cuisines, such as East Indian

Coming soon to the supermarket

Home cooks will note cheese-worthy happenings at their food-shopping retailers as well.  Hispanic cheeses, reflecting growth in the general population and a broad desire for Mexican/Latin cuisines, continue to surge, increasing 25% in dollar volume in the first quarter of 2007 compared to 2006, according to a report from the International Dairy Foods Association.  Adding to the sales is an expanded selection.  In addition to Queso Blanco and Fresco, Wisconsin makes Asadero, Cotija, Queso Quesadilla and Queso Oaxaca, everything from crumbly accent varieties to sumptuous melting and filling cheeses.

Elegant, upscale cheese shops are opening around the country and to be competitive, supermarkets are going more upscale, too, developing in-store cheese centers that feature more specialty and artisanal selections, more cheese sampling, more cut-to-order options and better trained staff who can provide tips on serving, entertaining, pairing and storing. Cheese centers will be stocked with compatible foods and beverages, making them akin to a cheese boutique within the store.  Leading supermarket chains are developing private label programs to give their cheeses a unique edge.  Lowes Foods, for example, has its own branded line of Wisconsin selections.  Kroger recently initiated a program to feature the label of Murray’s Cheese Shop, the well-known and reputed New York City cheese purveyor.

And as consumers turn more and more to the Internet for food information, supermarkets will continue to expand their ethnic product offerings to accommodate the “global table” for home cooks.

The future big picture

It may be overstated to say that Americans are obsessed with food-even though more and more of us are spending our hard-earned vacation time on culinary tours-yet societal trends clearly substantiate that food is at the center of both American pleasure and concern.

The outlook is impacted by a priority on wellness and well-being. More complicated than “health,” well-being encompasses a wide set of qualities-health for sure, but also social and personal balance and responsibility.  The green movement, sustainable agriculture, and local products-all of these contribute.  Taste and convenience are still food priorities, but there are signs Americans are willing pay for what they perceive to be safer, “socially correct” food.  Several studies report we are finally making progress in our battle with obesity, as well.

How does this stew of trends impact cheese?  A reasoned prediction is for more and higher quality American natural cheeses, crafted with a great sense of care and respect for the future. n

Marilyn Wilkinson is dir. of communications for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, a  nonprofit organization of Wisconsin dairy producers that promotes the consumption of milk, cheese and other dairy products made in America’s Dairyland.

More Cheese Trends

DCI Cheese Co., Richfield, Wis., a leading supplier of high-quality, value-added specialty cheese, recently launch of its probiotic cheese line under DCI’s County Line brand of specialty cheeses.  County Line’s probiotic cheeses is available in four 8-ounce varieties – Pepper Jack, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack and Mild Cheddar.   The new cheese products contain probiotic cultures, which help to maintain a healthy digestive system and levels of internal bacteria, as well as aid in the activation of the natural immune system.   DCI is also introducing a new organic domestic Parmesan wedge and organic 4-ounce Goat log under the company’s Organic Creamery branded line of specialty cheeses.  The Organic Parmesan wedge was introduced in January, and the Organic Goat Cheese will reach the market this month.

France is known for romance, and of course, cheese. So no surprise then that the Cheeses of France campaign had some special promotions in the works last month for Valentines Day.  Working with the campaign, acclaimed cheese expert Max McCalman, author of The Cheese Plate, prepared a romantic plate for two designed with fromage lovers in mind. The plate was described on McCalman’s Cheese Plate page on the Cheeses or France website It included French favorites Camembert, Comte and Roquefort,  paired with Champagne.

The California Milk Advisory Board is suggesting a reinvention of the cheese, for  February’s Super Bowl. The board suggested a Monterey Jack and Blue Cheese Football as a reinterpretation of the traditional cheese ball. It would contains three kinds of California cheese and a mix of garlic and cayenne. The Peppery California Ricotta and Sharp Cheddar Cheese Ball features three kinds of flavorful California cheese and is coated in a mix of chopped walnuts and green onions.

Cheddar is often described as America’s favorite cheese, and the latest statistics support its widespread popularity. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board says that’s good news for Wisconsin, the state that traditionally leads the U.S. in Cheddar production, most recently crafting 21% of the national output in 2006 (USDA). Americans consumed 10.35 pounds of Cheddar per person in 2006, up 3.3%  from 2005, according to USDA. Specialty Cheddar production grew 27.2% from 2005 to 2006, according to the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service (WASS).

When the top stars of the culinary world converge at the 2008 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Feb. 21-24, Roth Käse USA and Emmi (USA), Inc., will be there to welcome them in their roles as the exclusive cheese sponsors of this annual mecca for food and wine enthusiasts. The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, showcases the talents of world-renowned chefs and famed culinary personalities, along with the products of the world’s top manufacturers and distributors of fine foods, wine and spirits.  Over 40,000 wine-and-food-loving guests are expected to attend the festival in venues across South Beach, an ocean-front area of Miami known for its great restaurants and lively nightlife. Roth Käse and Emmi will have an array of their signature cheeses on hand at the Publix Grand Tasting Village as well as for chefs to use in several high-profile demonstrations and tastings.