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Alice in Dairyland: There are fewer than 100 Master Cheesemakers in Wisconsin. Learn what it takes to earn this distinction.

March 27, 2024

3 Min Read
a display of various types of cheeses
ARTISAN CHEESES: Wisconsin’s 1,200 licensed cheesemakers produce over 600 varieties, types and styles of cheese. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin

by Ashley Hagenow

Wisconsin is home to more than 1,200 licensed cheesemakers, but only a small group of the elite earn the title of Master Cheesemaker. The program is rigorous and takes several years to complete.

According to the Center for Dairy Research, the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program was established as an advanced education program for experienced cheesemakers through joint sponsorship with the Center for Dairy Research, University of Wisconsin Extension and the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.

The purpose of the program is to formalize the steps and courses that lead to the Master Cheesemaker title, add value to products crafted by a Master Cheesemaker, and give the cheesemakers the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the domestic and international markets.

Years of commitment

Just being accepted into the Master Cheesemaker program takes years of commitment. Even to apply, one must meet these requirements:

  • be making cheese in a Wisconsin plant

  • have cheesemakers license for 10 years

  • have five years of experience producing the cheese they want to be certified in

  • complete two courses: Advanced Cheese Technology and an elective

Master Cheesemakers must be certified in each variety of cheese they want to put their Master’s Mark on.

It takes two years and eight months from selection into the program until graduation. During that time, cheesemakers take courses on food safety, cheese grading, pasteurization and more. They also submit samples of their cheese throughout the almost 3-year-long process. After a final written exam, the cheesemaker officially becomes a Master Cheesemaker.

Wisconsin is the only place outside of Europe where one can earn the Master Cheesemaker certification. There are currently fewer than 100 Master Cheesemakers in Wisconsin, but more are added every year. The 2023 class earned certifications in cheddar, blue cheese, mozzarella and curds.

Alice in Dairyland Ashley Hagenow and Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese

Meeting the Masters

During my travels as Alice in Dairyland, I have loved the chance to meet our Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers through industry tours and events such as World Dairy Expo and the Art of Cheese Festival. Through conversations with Master Cheesemakers like Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese, Pam Hodgson of Sartori Cheese and Tony Hook of Hook’s Cheese Co., I got a sense of the love and commitment these individuals have for cheese and the cheesemaking process.

Tony Hook, Ashely Hagenow and Pam Hodgson

Our Master Cheesemakers are dedicated, passionate and incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to creating delicious Wisconsin cheeses, and they are one of the many reasons we are known as America’s Dairyland and recognized all over the world for our high-quality products.

With such dedication toward perfecting a craft, it’s safe to say the future of cheese in Wisconsin is looking bright. Find more information online about the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program and Wisconsin’s Master Cheesemakers.

Hagenow is the 76th Alice in Dairyland.

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