It turns out that moving to Wisconsin doesn’t automatically make you a cheesemaker [unpacks bags dejectedly]. On the contrary, in fact—Wisconsin is actually the only state that requires cheesemakers to hold a license to sell their goods, and the licensing process is no joke.
It takes 18 months to two years to fulfill all the requirements, so if you were looking to carve out a space for yourself in the Badger State (apparently that is Wisconsin’s other nickname—you learn something new every day!), you’d be looking down the pipeline at 2018.
There are four parts to the process: Aspiring artisans have to pay a licensing fee; take five short University of Wisconsin classes in the science, sanitation, and art of cheesemaking; study under a already licensed pro for 240 hours; and pass a written exam. Consumers can rest easy knowing that cheese coming out of Wisconsin is safe, sanitary, and delicious, but debates about the fairness of insisting on such elaborate requirements simmer nonetheless.
While facilities and artisans should be held to a high standard of sanitation and safety, Wisconsin is the only state with such a stringent rule, and complying with it is expensive to boot—in addition to the minor $75 licensing fee, cheesemakers-in-training have to spend around $3000 on required courses. If making cheese is going to be your life’s work, a couple of years to develop your craft probably shouldn’t be too much to ask, but is such a significant monetary barrier to entry prohibitive?
Since 2010, promotional cheese organization Wisconsin Cheese Originals has sought to alleviate that burden for one promising curd-lover each year. Founded by Jeanne Carpenter, one of only four Certified Cheese Professionals in Wisconsin, WCO offers a $2500 scholarship annually—this year’s went to Gabriella Szmola, a dairy goat farm operator in Salem, Wis. Carpenter’s vocal support of the licensing regulations has been a matter of contention among people looking to enter the trade who are reluctant to shell out such a hefty sum, and this scholarship has been her answer.
If you’re interested in cheesemaking but not in a bona fide cheese certificate, don’t despair—there are 49 other states to choose from. But if curd is really your calling and you want to make it official, Wisconsin also offers a master cheesemaker program for those who have already held a license for ten years. They don’t take the title “America’s Dairyland” lightly.