Wisconsin's cheese-making tradition dates back to the 19th century. European immigrants who settled in Wisconsin were drawn to its fertile fields.
Wisconsin leads the nation in number of dairy plants.
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, which 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). In 2014, Wisconsin produced 2.9 billion pounds of cheese, accounting for 25.4% of all cheese produced in the U.S.
As of 2013, Wisconsin continues to be the largest cheese producer in the United States, making over 600 different cheese varieties. Wisconsin is the only U.S. state that requires that a licensed cheesemaker supervise the making of commercial cheese. It is also the only state to offer a master cheesemaker program, which is patterned on the rigorous standards of similar programs in Europe.