In the 9,000 years since its creation, cheese has become a beloved food many of us can’t live without. That’s especially true in Wisconsin, where cheese is part of our cultural identity and everything we do here. Our cheesemakers continue to innovate and dream of what cheese can be, sharing their award-winning classics and new artisanal masterpieces that are original to our state.
Travel the Globe
Every handcrafted Wisconsin cheese is inextricably linked to the country where it originated. That makes The State of Cheese remarkable—our diverse immigrant population brought their cherished cheesemaking recipes and time-honored techniques and traditions overseas. Swiss cheesemakers introduced alpine-style cheeses. The Italians gifted specialties like parmesan and mozzarella. And you can thank the Germans (and Swiss) for limburger and the Dutch for a delicacy like gouda.
Making swiss in 1929 | Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society
Wisconsin’s galaxy of cheeses is vast and delicious. We’ve been obsessively making the world’s finest cheeses for 180+ years since before we were even a state. Here’s a look at a handful of varieties and a collection of dishes that allow you to travel the globe without ever leaving your home.
Salting swiss | Photo courtesy of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center
From Swiss to Surchoix
We owe Swiss immigrants our gratitude for the alpine-style cheeses in Wisconsin. They shared their cheesemaking techniques upon settling here in the 1800s. The Swiss Alps and the region’s unique environment influenced the cheeses that hail from Switzerland—swiss, gruyère, raclette and more.
The Skinny on Swiss
Swiss cheese was among the first Old World cheeses produced in our state. While any cheese made in Switzerland can be called “Swiss cheese,” what Americans call swiss cheese is a version reminiscent of emmentaler cheese from Switzerland.
Wisconsin swiss is akin to emmentaler (or emmental). This rindless, aged cheese sports the iconic holes called “eyes” and has ample buttery, nutty and slightly sweet flavors.
Baby swiss is an American cheese often crafted with whole milk and melts beautifully. It’s aged for less time (usually a month) and has smaller holes than traditional swiss. Worldwide award-winning Deppeler’s Baby Swiss is mild and buttery with a creamy texture. It’s also available smoked.
Great Admiration for Gruyère
We’re huge fans of gruyère in Wisconsin. Our cheesemakers have created several cheeses featuring fresh raw milk and, depending on the cheese, similar cheesemaking techniques using traditional copper vats and tools.
Small-batch Roelli Little Mountain is a wash-rind, raw milk cheese made in the Appenzeller style, which means it’s crafted with traditional copper equipment and carefully added cultures to give it flavors specific to Alpine mountain cheese. This aged treasure boasts a smooth and nutty taste with grassy, fruity notes, similar to gruyère and emmentaler.
The most awarded cheese in American history, Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, is an expression of Wisconsin’s terroir. Like the coveted alpage versions of Beaufort and gruyère, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is an aged alpine-style cheese made only in summer from grass-fed raw milk. The land lends sweetness to the milk and combines with savory flavors developed by the cheese’s natural, washed rind, resulting in complex, rich, salty flavors and a long, fruity finish.
In an homage to the centuries-old Swiss tradition of gruyère production, each batch of Roth Grand Cru® Surchoix is handmade in copper vats with the freshest milk. Every wheel is washed with a custom brine and aged for at least nine months in cellars to develop its firm texture and complex flavors of caramel, fruit and mushroom. Taste this Alpine showpiece in the classic Croque Madame sandwich.
Did You Know?
Cheesemaking had spread across the state by the early 20th century. According to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, Green County became the epicenter of Swiss-inspired cheesemaking, churning out volumes of alpine-style cheeses.
Make it: Croque Madame
Chalet Cheese Cooperative | Photo courtesy of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center
Everyone "Nose" Limburger
Famously known as one of the world’s stinkiest cheeses, limburger was born in Belgium and brought to the United States by German immigrants in the 1800s. Swiss cheesemakers took it on when it reached our state, and it’s been making Wisconsin Cheese history ever since.
Country Castle Limburger by Chalet Cheese Cooperative is the last remaining limburger in the U.S. The cheese lives up to its promise as full-bodied, funky and lovingly stinky! It’s still served in Green County taverns with raw onion, dark rye and a mint for afterward.
Smear-ripened limburger has a reputation for a stinky aroma due to curing the cheese in a saltwater brine and then frequently washing the cheese with it. This keeps the surface moist and helps to cultivate bacteria (Brevibacterium linens), producing its signature pungent whiff that packs a punch.
Aging limburger | Photo courtesy of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center
Young limburger, one to two months old, is curdy with a mild, sweeter flavor. The interior softens and is creamier, and the aroma develops as it ages three to four months. And by five to six months of age, the limburger is softer and incredibly aromatic.
Who “nose”? This cheese might be your next favorite! Try limburger tavern-style, melt it in Bavarian Beer Cheese Dip, or pair it with pear cider, Grüner Veltliner and even black coffee.
Did You Know?
According to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, Swiss immigrant Nicholas Gerber opened the first Green County cheese factory in a small log house southwest of New Glarus in 1868. It was also the first limburger cheese factory in Wisconsin.
Make it: Bavarian Beer Cheese Dip
A Gouda for Every Gourmet
This quintessential Dutch cheese is one of the most popular in the world. Gouda is one of the oldest European cheeses still made today. It originated in the Netherlands in the 12th century and is named after the city of Gouda in the south of Holland.
Marieke® Gouda Foenegreek
Wisconsin does the Dutch proud with our authentic gouda. Artisan cheeses start with local fresh raw milk and are aged on wooden planks. The additional ingredients and equipment are imported from Holland.
Wakker Cheese brought their family’s famous European gouda to the United States, where they have made their best recipes with milk from their dairy since the fall of 2015—each piece of cheese shares the spirit of ancient Dutch cheesemaking traditions.
Signature cultures and ingredients are added to vats of rich milk, and an Old World technique is used to make each wheel of Marieke® Gouda. The cheeses are handcrafted with passion during every step.
Whether you prefer it aged with complex notes of caramel or butterscotch and a slight crystalline crunch, flavored, smoked, or mild and buttery, there’s a gouda for every foodie. Indulge in a mature or young, buttery gouda for its exceptional melting properties. They’re perfect for traditional Dutch croquettes, usually deep-fried until golden. Sample the air-fried spin here.
Did You Know?
The owner of Marieke® Gouda and Head Cheesemaker, Marieke Penterman, was born and raised in the Netherlands. She moved to Wisconsin to live out her dream of dairy farming and returned to her home country to learn to make Dutch gouda. Marieke’s cheesemaking chops earned her a green card through the “extraordinary ability” route, typically only available to professors and athletes!
Make it: Air-Fryer Aged Gouda Croquettes
Pass the Parm, Please
Italian cheeses—provolone, parmesan, asiago, fontina and more—are renowned for their big flavors that date back centuries. While Wisconsin’s Italian-style cheeses may not date back hundreds of years, our cheesemakers like BelGioioso® Cheese, Sartori® Cheese and Cello Cheese artfully craft Italian-inspired greats. They’re breathing new life into Old World cheesemaking, pushing the boundaries of creativity to develop cutting-edge versions of traditional favorites.
Born in the upper Po River Valley of Northern Italy, parmesan gained popularity in the 14th century for its enormous wheel size, long shelf life and depth of flavor. Today, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from the northern region remains legally protected and regulated as a protected designation of origin (PDO). The name “parmesan” entails a broader family of cheeses that PDO does not regulate. In the U.S., Wisconsin leads the way with award-winning parmesans full of innovation.
Flagship Copper Kettle by Cello Cheese is cooked in copper vats and aged 16 months, yielding a distinct, rich caramel finish and a blend of robust and sweet flavors.
Savor BelGioioso American Grana®. It’s a sophisticated parmesan extra aged for at least 18 months in special caves to develop its deep, nutty flavor and granular texture.
Sartori SarVecchio® Parmesan is the most highly decorated parmesan in the United States, winning Super Gold Medals at the 2019 and 2017 World Cheese Awards and more. It’s savory yet fruity, caramel-sweet, almost toffee-like, and crumbly with prized crunchy calcium crystals due to aging for at least 20 months. This standout shines in dishes like Winter Pesto Pasta with Shrimp or displayed at the center of a cheese board.
Did You Know?
In 1939, Paolo Sartori brought his Italian heritage and passion for cheesemaking to Wisconsin. He founded a family-owned business, known today as Sartori® Cheese, that continues to thrive over four generations.
Make it: Winter Pesto Pasta with Shrimp