While every day may seem like Cheese Day in Wisconsin, June 25 marked the second year of celebrating our state’s top dairy product. Government officials, representatives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and individuals from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection covered the state to visit 13 cheese companies and facilities.
On the highly-anticipated Cheese Day, I had the honor of flying with Lt Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Mark Maley of WEDC. Leaving Maizey on the ground, we soared in Wisconsin’s sky speaking with excitement about the people and places we would visit. Our first stop was Nordic Creamery in Westby. The Bekkum Farmstead has been owned and operated by the family since emigrating from Norway in 1917. Al and Sarah Bekkum respect their Norwegian heritage in the store that features handcrafted cheeses made from cow, goat and sheep milk as well as artisan butter. Al is decorated with gold and silver medals from national and international competitions.
Our wheels later landed near the Eau Galle Cheese Factory operated by the Buhlman family. The founder, Leo Buhlman, apprenticed for eight years as a cheesemaker in Switzerland before opening the factory in 1945. In 1958, Buhlman started making cheddar cheese to meet the changing market. Eventually, he found his niche with hard Italian cheese. Eau Galle Cheese produces millions of pounds of cheese per year and has won seven national and international awards.
Lastly, we touched down in Green Bay to celebrate with Schreiber Foods. L.D. Schreiber founded Schreiber Cheese Company in partnership with Merlin Bush and Daniel Nusbaum in 1945. The company started with a single production facility. Today, Schreiber Foods is the world’s largest employee-owned dairy company with operations in 12 countries and 15 U.S. cities. The company’s three main lines of dairy products include natural cheese, process cheese and cultured products.
On our return flight home, I couldn’t help but admire the diversity of the three companies. Men and women of different heritages and business approaches turned their passion into success. As I looked out the window, I realized the same is true across Wisconsin’s landscape. From the sky, farm fields were easily separated by different crop varieties. While the plane lowered to land, livestock of all species came into clear view. I saw farmers making hay and combines harvesting completed fields.
Although June is Dairy Month, we truly need farms of many different types, sizes and production methods to bring success to Wisconsin agriculture. Wisconsin ranks first in the nation for the production of not only cheese but also ginseng, cranberries and more. As Alice, I look forward to making every day Cheese Day, Cranberry Day, or Ginseng Day as I learn from our farmers and processors and continue to celebrate our state’s achievements in agriculture.