The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association’s (WCMA) board of directors said it selected nine individuals to be recognized at the International Cheese Technology Expo in April 2018 for their outstanding work in the dairy manufacturing industry.

“Our multi-billion dollar industry was built not only on a reputation for the highest quality products, but also on the ideas and hard work of the leaders WCMA is set to recognize in 2018,” said John Umhoefer, WCMA’s executive director. “We’re pleased to shine a spotlight on the men and women who, through hard work and initiative, have created a firm foundation for the future of dairy manufacturing.”

Jeff Wideman is set to receive the association’s highest honor: the WCMA Life Member Award. WCMA said it has offered the Life Member Award since 1918, and Wideman will be the 86th recipient. The award recognizes people who have played a significant role in the success of the association through leadership, support, and service to this institution and its activities.

Wideman grew up on a dairy farm in Juda, Wis., and went to work for the dairy cooperative where his parents were farmer patrons. It was there, under the tutelage of two Swiss cheesemakers, Hans and Sep Jaeggi, that his career began, WCMA noted. Wideman is a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker with certifications in Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses.

The leading force at Maple Leaf Cheese for decades, he has been an innovator in the specialty of premium cheeses, winning numerous awards for his creations. Wideman also is a partner and investor in Ms. J & Co., a sheep farming venture with the goal of improving flock genetics in the Assaf breed in the United States. He is a past president of WCMA, and is currently serving his third six-year term on the WCMA board of directors.

Other honorees include:

Mark Davis and Dolores Wheeler, both named 2018 WCMA Cheese Industry Champion.

Davis served as CEO of Davisco Food International, Inc. from its inception until January 2012, when his son took the helm. In 2014, Davisco was acquired by the Canadian cooperative Agropur. He began his career in the dairy industry as a driver on a new bulk milk pickup route for his father Stan’s company, St. Peter Creamery.

In 1969, when St. Peter Creamery combined milk supplies with Le Sueur Cheese Co., Davis became Le Sueur’s plant manager, and took one-third ownership of the joint venture. In 1986, he shepherded St. Peter Creamery, LeSueur Cheese and Nicollet Food Products through a merger to form Davisco Foods. In 1992, Davisco’s size doubled when Davis made the decision to build a cheese plant in Jerome, Idaho, borrowing $35 million for the project, which ultimately made the company a key player in the U.S. milk processing industry, WCMA noted.

Wheeler began packaging cheese and studying the bookwork at her father’s business, Gossner Foods Co., in 1966. As the company grew, she took on larger roles, and in 1984, she became president, CEO, and chairman of the board of Gossner Foods. The company has experienced robust growth under her leadership, WCMA said. Wheeler was the first woman chair of the board of directors for the Utah Manufacturers Association and has also been awarded the honors of Utah Entrepreneur of the Year and Manufacturer of the Year.

Jim Banks, the WCMA Distinguished Service Award. Reserved for respected and highly valued supplier partners to the cheese manufacturing industry, this award is unique in that the association allows members to vote on prospective honorees, WCMA said. This year, a record 828 votes were cast, and Banks, formerly of Custom Fabricating and Repair Inc., is one of the two honorees.

Banks served as director of cheese equipment sales at Custom Fabricating and Repair before his retirement in November 2017. Throughout his career, Banks worked for seven different companies, serving the dairy and food processing industries, as well as companies in pharmaceutical and beverage manufacturing.

At Johnson Industries International, he was instrumental in the development of horizontal cheese vats and worked on the development and testing of a 500-pound barrel and a blockforming tower. Banks is also proud to have sold the first Sapac powder bagging system in the United States.

John Nelson, the WCMA Distinguished Service Award. Nelson is chairman of the board of Nelson-Jameson Inc. Since joining the company that his father co-founded in 1975, he has been instrumental in growing Nelson-Jameson’s strong cheese and dairy industry base, as well as the company, WCMA said. Today, Nelson-Jameson continues to be a family-owned and operated company, and under Nelson’s leadership, it has grown to include four branches and a sales office throughout the United States.

Dr. David Barbano and Dr. Purnendu C. Vasavada, the Babcock Award. The award is named for Stephen Babcock, the famed agricultural chemist and University of Wisconsin professor credited with developing a method to determine the butterfat content of milk, a test which helped to establish Wisconsin as a dairy leader. The award recognizes the contributions of those in education or affiliate organizations partnering with cheesemakers in the pursuit of dairy industry innovation and excellence, WCMA noted.

Barbano has been a professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University since 1980 and has served as the director of the Northeast Dairy Foods Research Center since 1988. He is past president of the American Dairy Science Association, serves on numerous International Dairy Federation Committees for milk analysis, and is a current fellow of ADSA and the Association of Official Analytical Chemists, WCMA said.

As a professor emeritus of food science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Vasavada is recognized internationally for his teaching in food science and technology, food safety and microbiology, rapid methods and automation in food microbiology, and food quality assurance. Vasavada also provides consulting assistance to the food industry as the principal and managing member of PCV & Associates LLC.

Raymond Dyke and Gary Grossen, the Vanguard Award. The Vanguard Award is intended to recognize cheesemakers or cheese manufacturing employees whose work helped to blaze new trails in dairy operations, WCMA said.

Dyke devoted his career to cheese manufacturing, cultured products and quality control, working for Cabot Cooperative Creamery, Associated Milk Producers, Cabot Cooperative and, before retiring in 2015, as vice president of technology at Agri-Mark, Inc. He continues to consult with Agri-Mark. Dyke received a Master’s Degree in Dairy Science from the University of Vermont in 1974.

Grossen grew up making cheese with his parents at Prairie Hill Cheese Factory in Green County, Wis., and for decades has served as Master Cheese Maker at the University of Wisconsin’s Babcock Hall Dairy.  He is a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker with certifications in brick, Muenster, cheddar, Havarti and Gouda, and has won many cheese contest awards, WCMA stated.

Awards will be delivered to honorees at the International Cheese Technology Expo Recognition Breakfast on Thursday, April 19. For more information or to register to attend this event, visit or call WCMA at 608-286-1001.