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Soon, dairy farms sprang up around Wisconsin, and farmers began producing cheese to preserve excess milk. In 1841, Anne Pickett established Wisconsin’s first commercial cheese factory, using milk from neighbors' cows. A century later, Wisconsin was home to more than 1,500 cheese factories, which produced more than 500 million pounds of cheese per year.
Wisconsin has long been identified with cheese; in the words of a 2006 New York Times article, "Cheese is the state’s history, its pride, its self-deprecating, sometimes goofy, cheesehead approach to life." Wisconsin has claimed the title of the largest cheese producing state in the United States since 1910, when it passed New York. In 2006 Wisconsin produced 2.4 billion pounds of cheese and held onto its top ranking, despite concerns that California's faster-growing cheese industry would soon surpass Wisconsin's production. In 2007 Wisconsin again held onto its lead, and it was reported that its lead had begun to grow slightly. In 2010 Wisconsin's cheese production rose to 2.6 billion pounds (requiring the state cheese industry to import a substantial amount of milk from other states to meet production needs).
Wisconsin continues to be the largest cheese producer in the United States, making over 600 different cheese varieties. In addition, Wisconsin has more licensed cheesemakers than any other U.S. state. It is also the only state to offer a Master Cheesemaker program, which is patterned on the rigorous standards of similar programs in Europe.
- Monica Davey, "Wisconsin’s Crown of Cheese Is Within California’s Reach", The New York Times, September 30, 2006.
- Karen Herzog, State keeps cheese crown: On taste, and volume, Wisconsin beats arch-rival California", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 29, 2008.
- Anne Marie Ames, Wisconsin Facing a Dairy Deficit", Janesville Gazette, April 25, 2011.
- Apps, Jerold W. Cheese: The Making of a Wisconsin Tradition. Amherst, Wis.: Amherst Press, 1998.
- Emery, J. Q. "The Swiss Cheese Industry in Wisconsin", Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 10, no, 1 (September 1926): 42-52.
- Norton, James R. and Becca Dilley. The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.