Wisconsin has long been known for its outstanding cheese and butter, but it all starts with the high-quality milk produced by the state’s dairy farmers. Wisconsin is also known as an ideal place to live the American dairy dream.
Errico Auricchio’s family moved to America from Italy in 1979 to start their own company, BelGioioso Cheese Inc., in Green Bay. Over the last three-and-a-half decades, BelGioioso has become an award-winning cheese company, setting a standard of excellence in the dairy industry.
“We started in 1979 producing one type of cheese, provolone, in a rented manufacturing plant,” Auricchio says. “We now produce 27 different Italian cheeses in eight manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin.”
Some of BelGioioso’s top selling cheeses include provolone, fresh mozzarella (such as Burrata), Parmesan and American Grana, and mascarpone. Auricchio credits the company’s success to the quality of Wisconsin’s milk supply. “The quality of our milk supply produces quality cheeses with consistent flavors and textures,” he says.
The milk going into BelGioioso cheeses must be as fresh as possible, he says. About 99 percent of the company’s milk supply is at the plants in less than 24 hours after it was in the cows. Approximately 200 dairy farms within 40 miles of the receiving plant provide the milk.
“Our cheesemakers use many traditional and hands-on techniques, and we don’t cut corners when making our cheeses,” he says. “We strive to provide varieties and also the convenience consumers are looking for.”
BelGioioso was the first company in the United States to start producing mascarpone.
“It has a naturally sweet flavor and creamy texture and is half the calories of butter,” Auricchio says. “Produced from only the freshest cream, its soft, creamy texture spreads with ease and blends well with other ingredients.”
Consumers can find BelGioioso cheeses in the specialty cheese section of the deli in many major retailers and markets.
Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery
At the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, squeaky cheese curds are the center of attention. Formed by a group of dairy farmers in 1910, the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery began by making butter, adding cheese in 1966 and packaged curds in 1968. Today, Ellsworth is known as the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin, and Ellsworth cheese curds are sold in grocery stores across the nation.
“We make several flavors of cheese curds, including ranch, garlic, taco, Cajun and cheddar,” says Beth Ingli, store supervisor and advertising director for Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. “At our store here in Ellsworth, we also have lemon pepper dill and hickory bacon cheese curds. Every Thursday during the summer, we introduce a new flavor of curds to get feedback from our customers. We’ve made pizza curds, sour cream and onion, and habanero for people who like hotter cheese.”
The Ellsworth plant and its second location in Comstock produce 160,000 pounds of cheese curds every day. Both plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep up with consistent milk deliveries from 450 dairy farms.
“From the time we get milk at 5 a.m., the process only takes six hours – we have fresh cheese curds by 11 a.m.,” Ingli says. “It’s a simple process. We add a starter to the milk to make it curdle, drain off the whey and add salt to the curds.”
Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery has thrived for more than a century because of its “talented, dedicated employees and farmers,” Ingli says. “Five of our employees have been with us for more than 40 years, and five of our farms have been shipping milk to us since we started in 1910.”
Grassland Dairy Products Inc.
Wisconsin is the nation’s second largest producer of butter, and Grassland Dairy Products Inc., in Greenwood makes the most of it. The family-owned creamery is operated by fourth-generation butter makers, Tayt and Trevor Wuethrich, and produces about 25 percent of the butter made in the United States, including more than 100 retail labels.
The Wuethrich family immigrated to Wisconsin from the Switzerland Alps in 1893.
“Our Wüthrich brand is our award-winning artisan butter,” says Trevor Wuethrich, vice president at Grassland Dairy Products. “It is a European-style butter with 83 percent butter fat made from a century-old family recipe.”
Grassland Dairy’s saled butter took first place in the butter competition of the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest.
While remaining true to its heritage, Grassland has managed to keep up with changing consumer demands, creating butter-based alternatives for sophisticated palates, such as olive oil butter blends, high-protein butters and functional, spreadable butters.
“We utilize every component of milk to make products that isolate protein, fat, lactose and minerals to fulfill customers’ orders,” Wuethrich says.