All About Wisconsin’s Master Cheesemaker Program

March 4, 2021

All About Wisconsin’s Master Cheesemaker Program


Behind every wheel of cheese made in Wisconsin is a proud cheesemaker. In fact, Wisconsin is home to more than 1,200 licensed cheesemakers who make over 600 varieties of incredible cheese. But for a small group of elite cheesemakers passionate about pushing their education and craft to the limit, there’s one final step: becoming a certified Master Cheesemaker.

This certification (and honor) is hard to come by, and it’s certainly not an easy feat. Read on to learn why this program is so special and discover some of their exceptional cheeses to add to your must-try list.

What is a Master Cheesemaker?

The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program is basically a Ph.D. in cheese. Wisconsin is actually the only state in the U.S. with this level of certification. Skilled cheesemakers with over a decade of experience enter this three-year program to perfect making specific varieties of cheese.

Once certified, Master Cheesemakers can use the Master’s Mark® on their products, indicating that they have supervised each step of the cheesemaking process. Keep an eye out for that distinctive blue mark for an assurance of quality that you can’t get anywhere else!

How do you become a Master Cheesemaker?

Becoming a Master Cheesemaker is a three-year commitment dedicated to the art of cheese. Licensed Wisconsin Cheesemakers must have 10 years of experience—with at least five years of experience in the cheese variety for which they seek certification—before they can be considered for the Master Cheesemaker program.

The rigorous program includes a blend of courses ranging from cheese technology to whey utilization, and from quality assurance to water management. After that, the cheesemaker must participate in a three-year apprenticeship during which they submit cheese for sampling. (We volunteer as tribute!) After a final written exam, the cheesemaker is officially welcomed into an elite group of Master Cheesemakers.

Meet some of Wisconsin’s Master Cheesemakers

Every Master Cheesemaker brings with them a wealth of experience and passion for cheesemaking, along with a little “je ne sais quoi.” These origin stories of these Master Cheesemaker are almost superhero level. Read more about these cheese-y visionaries: 

Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis of Burnett Dairy likes to live on the edge. He rides his motorcycle fast. he does all his own stunts. And he makes some of the best cheese on Earth.

Ken Heiman

Ken, a Master Cheesemaker who owns Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield, Wisconsin, is an encyclopedia of all things dairy - from cheese's ancient roots in Egyptian tombs and Greek mythology to the exact time it takes his plant to turn a tanker load of milk into feta.

Ryan LaGrander

Growing up directly above his family's cheese factory, LaGrander's Hillside Dairy in Stanley, Wisconsin, Master Cheesemaker Ryan LaGrander learned early on that the cheese life is harder than it looks.

Pam Hodgson

When you're one of only two women in the country to hold the title of Master Cheesemaker, it would be easy to let the glory go to your head. But that's not how Pam Hodgson of Sartori rolls.

Learn more about our Master Cheesemaker program.

A few must-try cheeses from Master Cheesemakers

These exceptional cheeses boast the Master’s Mark, a label only bestowed on the wondrous creations of a Master Cheesemaker. No matter what you’re in the mood for, these cheeses are bound to be a grate option.

Sartori SarVecchio® Parmesan: Made by one of Sartori’s Master Cheesemakers, Larry Steckbauer, this mellow and fruity parmesan is delightfully crumbly and crunchy. This parmesan, aged for over 20 months, has won countless accolades. SarVecchio represents 35 years of cheesemaking experience and passion, and they've loved every minute of it.

Edelweiss Creamery Swiss Emmentaler: This alpine-style cheese comes from Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman, who combines Old World techniques (yup, he uses a traditional copper kettle) with fresh Wisconsin grass-based milk. This emmentaler is produced as a 180-pound wheel of cheese!

Roelli Cheese Haus Red Rock: When it comes to innovative cheeses, Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli’s Red Rock is near the top of the list. This unique natural-rind  cheddar is graced with beautiful blue veins that yield a tender-yet-sharp bite. It’s a rind-blowing combination that you have to taste to believe.

Widmer’s Cheese Cellars Brick: Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer is a third-generation cheesemaker. Tradition rules at Widmer's: Joe still uses the same open vats that his grandfather bought in 1922 and the same bricks his grandfather and uncles used to make this Wisconsin OriginalWidmer’s produces over 360,000 pounds of brick a year.

Ready to taste what a Master Cheesemaker can do?

If all this talk of cheesemaking has gotten you hungry for a cheese tasting, you can get Wisconsin’s finest cheeses and cheese gift baskets delivered right to your door with our continuously updated list of cheesemakers and retailers that allow you to order cheese online.

Craving something else? Choose from our selection of over 400 recipes featuring Wisconsin Cheese. Don’t forget to share your creative cheesy creations with us on Facebook and Instagram.


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