Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research named the 2023 class of Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers. Four new and one returning cheesemaker graduated from the program. The class of 2023 collectively earned certifications in cheddar, blue cheese, mozzarella and curds.

Wisconsin is the only place outside of Switzerland where cheesemakers become official masters in their craft. It requires true dedication, including 13 or more years of cheesemaking as well as pursuing coursework and rigorous exams.

  • Kirk Auchue of Saputo Cheese and Black Creek in Fond du Lac, Wis., is certified in cheddar. Auchue enjoys the challenge of cheesemaking and is particularly proud of the cheesemakers and other staff he works with at the plant – encouraging them to move away from complete automation and feeling the steps of the process.
  • Timothy Stearns of Land O'Lakes in Kiel, Wis., is certified in cheddar. Stearn's early immersion in the cheesemaking industry makes him feel like he grew up in it. His team hand selects which cheeses to put into aging.
  • Tony Hook of Hook's Cheese in Mineral Point, Wis., is certified in blue. Hook, a pioneer of Wisconsin's artisan cheese movement, began their sales at Dane County Farmers Market, connecting with customers one-on-one.
  • Ben Shibler of Pagel's Ponderosa/Ron's Wisconsin Cheese in Kewaunee, Wis., is certified in mozzarella. Shibler enjoys the intellectual and physical aspects of cheesemaking, stating, "It's a very hands-on job, especially in an old-school setup as we have. We don't have a lot of automation, and its open vats, so you're up to your elbows in it."

Returning Master Cheesemaker in 2023:

  • Ryan LaGrander of LaGrander's Hillside Dairy in Stanley, Wis., is certified in cheddar and curds. LaGrander manages everything from the farms they work with to the cheese production and sales of their product. He says a lot of his time is spent with the actual cheese production, making adjustments and working to fulfill the customers' needs.

"The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program, the only one of its kind in the U.S., is an advanced education program for experienced cheesemakers that enhances the quality image of what is already the nation's premier cheesemaking state," says Chad Vincent, CEO, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. "These graduates have dedicated an immense number of hours to earn their Master's Marks, which signifies unparalleled standards of Wisconsin cheesemaking."

Established in 1994, the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program has certified just over 90 masters out of the more than 1,200 total cheesemakers in the state, a testament to the program's high standards and rigor.