MADISON, WIS. – Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Center for Dairy Research announced that five cheesemakers graduated this year from the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program.

Between them, the five Wisconsin-based cheese experts earned certifications in cheddar, blue cheese, mozzarella and curds. Achieving master cheesemaker status requires a minimum of 13 years in cheesemaking, along with the program coursework and exams.

Four of the 2023 graduates became master cheesemakers for the first time: Kirk Auchue of Saputo Cheese and Black Creek (cheddar), Timothy Stearns of Land O'Lakes (cheddar), Tony Hook of Hook's Cheese (blue) and Ben Shibler of Pagel's Ponderosa/Ron's Wisconsin Cheese (mozzarella).

A returning master cheesemaker, Ryan LaGrander of LaGrander's Hillside Dairy became certified in cheddar and curds.

Master cheesemaker programs such as this only are offered in Wisconsin and Switzerland. Chad Vincent, chief executive officer of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, said the advanced education program “enhances the quality image of what is already the nation's premier cheesemaking state.”

Vincent added: "These graduates have dedicated an immense number of hours to earn their master's marks, which signifies unparalleled standards of Wisconsin cheesemaking."

Since it launched in 1994, the program has awarded 90 people with master cheesemaker status. Per Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Center for Dairy Research, there are more than 1,200 cheesemakers in the state of Wisconsin.