by Xinhua writers Xu Jing, Xia Lin, Miao Zhuang
In the cheese corner of a Metcalfe's grocery store in Madison, capital of U.S. Midwest state of Wisconsin, Sally Rossmiller is busy arranging the layout of cheese products and cutting cheese samples for customers to taste.
The corner has some 100 varieties of cheese including hand-crafted artisan cheese, as well as specialty cheese fresh from local small dairy farms.
Wisconsin, known as American's Dairyland, produces more than 600 varieties of cheese, and makes 27 percent of the nation's cheese. In 2017, the state produced 3.37 billion pounds (about 1.5 million tons) of cheese.
If Wisconsin were a country, it would rank fourth in world's cheese production, only behind the United States, Germany and France, according to official statistics.
"Dairy is just huge for us in Wisconsin. It's very much part of our culture," 56-year-old cheesemaker Pam Hodgson told Xinhua.
Hodgson attributed the high quality of Wisconsin cheese to a good infrastructure established for dairy industry in the state, where there are the best animal veterinarians to keep cows healthy, and specialists to keep the soil healthy and provide all the nutrition cows need.
Wisconsin's cheese grading system, including licensing of cheesemakers and training of master cheesemakers, further ensures that the American's Dairyland keeps making the most and the best cheeses in the world, Hodgson said.
"There is no (other) place in the world I would rather make cheese," Hodgson told Xinhua.
Deeply rooted in the European cheese-making tradition, Wisconsin leads the United States in hand-crafted specialty cheese production, such as Feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola, Gouda, and Limburger, and contributes to 45 percent of U.S. total specialty cheese production. It produced 799 million pounds of specialty cheese in 2017, making up 24 percent of its total cheese production in the year.
While adhering to the European tradition, cheesemakers in Wisconsin have gone beyond that, they innovated and invented cheese of new flavors and new tastes.
"There's been a flowering of cheese-making in Wisconsin in the last 25 years," said John Umhoefer, president of Cheesemakers Association Wisconsin, in an interview with Xinhua. "All hand-crafted specialty cheese made in Wisconsin are new innovations from the imagination of the cheesemaker."
"It's really given our industry a rebirth," he stressed.
In the 2018 World Championship Cheese Contest, Wisconsin earned 47 gold medals and had five finalists for the best cheese. Last year, the state took home 60.1 percent of the awards in the contest.
At present, Wisconsin only exports two to three percent of its cheese.
"Most of our cheeses are sold in the United States... But we're growing and the opportunity to sell into China and other markets is growing," Umhoefer said.
"I think the relationship between China and Wisconsin has a great opportunity to grow," he added.
As the standard of living is growing in China, Umhoefer said, "(Chinese people) are learning about the flavors of the world. I think they will want to move beyond a pizza and a hamburger from America and taste the special cheeses, the special foods from this country."
Umhoefer's remarks were echoed by statistics from Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, which showed that the state's dairy export to China grew 70 percent in 2017, and China, together with Mexico and Canada, are the three biggest markets of the state.
"For our farmers and for our cheesemakers, we'd like to be a good partner with China," Umhoefer stressed.