Specialty cheese production grew in 2018 but became a slightly smaller share of overall cheese production in Wisconsin.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Wisconsin again led the nation in cheese production in 2018, with 3.422 billion pounds produced, an increase of 1.3 percent over 2017.
But while specialty cheese production grew at about 1 percent, to 803 million pounds, an increase of 4 million pounds over 2017, it accounted for 23.5 percent of overall cheese production. In 2017, specialty cheese accounted for 23.7 percent of the state's cheese manufacturing, according to the USDA data.
Of the state's 118 cheese plants, 99 manufacture at least one type of specialty cheese. Farmers cheese had the largest increase in 2018, with 13 facilities producing 1.4 million pounds, an increase of 10%. Parmesan wheel production by six companies increased 6%, to 70.9 million pounds, while feta production increase by 5%, to 102.5 million pounds, to become the most produced specialty cheese in the state. Limburger, made only in the U.S. at Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe, was up 4%, to 464,000 pounds.
Seven specialty cheese categories decreased in 2018 when compared to 2017, with Gouda production dropping 24%, to 14.2 million pounds, despite 29 companies producing the cheese, compared to 26 the previous year. Wheels of Romano were down 11%, to 9.5 million pounds, while Asiago dropped 10%, to 28.8 million pounds.
According to the Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute, the nature of specialty cheese is derived from one or more unique qualities, such as exotic origin, particular processing or design, limited supply, unusual application or use, and extraordinary packaging or channel of sale.