The International Cheese Technology Expo in April will mark the 125th anniversary of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. And like our 100th anniversary celebration in 1991, we’ll raise a glass to a true milestone for this tenacious organization.
But we’ll be off by a year. Again.
The age of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association isn’t important, but an industry that thrives on pride, on quality, on master cheesemaking ought to know its roots. History is alive in long-held relationships between processors and their buyers, between farm patrons and their plants, and in dairy manufacturing families that can trace their roots, by blood, back to the 1800s.
History is proof of performance – it lends gravitas to marketing, builds terroir for turophiles.
In 1924, Wisconsin Cheese Makers’ Association held two conventions, one in January and another in December.
The Roaring Twenties, indeed. That single act of exuberance created a disconnect between the age of the Association and its number of annual meetings.
The Association formed in March of 1893, E.L. Aderhold, Wisconsin’s Assistant Dairy and Food Commissioner, told cheese makers at the WCMA Convention in 1917. He would know – he was one of the founders. “We dug down into our pockets and dug up the money to pay for the printing and advertising … and we held our first convention shortly after that in the old Agricultural Hall at the University in Madison and it was a very enthusiastic convention.”
In 1991, WCMA held a Centennial Reception at the annual convention, then called The Cheese Industry Symposium. No one seemed to know it was the Association’s 99th year (and 100th annual meeting).
When you get old, you forget things. Or perhaps you don’t sweat the details.
In 1978, the apostrophe in Wisconsin Cheese Makers’ Association began to disappear, as Dave Crusius took over for Roland Behle as WCMA executive director. By 1980, Crusius was gone and so was the apostrophe.
For decades, the official program of the WCMA annual meeting listed WCMA Life Members, with the odd quirk that deceased Life Members were dropped from the rolls. WCMA has honored 84 Life Members since its inception in 1893. Most tragically, John S. Wuethrich, founder of the great Grassland Dairy, was offered the Life Member honor posthumously in 1948: he passed away eight days before the convention. This honor was not listed in subsequent annual programs, but will now be noted for all time.
Even the colloquialism “going to Convention” is passing into history as the Association has built its annual meeting into one of the largest Technology Expositions in the global dairy industry.
Wisconsin’s ability to look back even while it charges head-long into the future has been a strength. This duality built the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program. It fueled generous donations to the new Center for Dairy Research coming to Babcock Hall. And it spurred the formation of the new Recognition Committee at WCMA.
The Recognition Committee has taken on, with gusto, WCMA’s Life Member Award, Distinguished Service Award and our new Cheese Industry Champion honor. The committee recommended Steve Stettler from Decatur Dairy in Brodhead, WI, for WCMA Life Member, and Hans Epprecht, founder of Great Lakes Cheese and George Cornell, now with Pacific Cheese, as Cheese Industry Champions.
Gary Smith, who led Kusel Equipment for 41 years before his passing in 2014, will earn the Distinguished Service Award alongside George Schwinghammer, career dairy processor and cheese equipment guru at Tetra Pak.
A new event, the Industry Recognition Breakfast, will debut April 14 at the International Cheese Technology Expo to honor these great men. We’ll raise a toast to the 125th gathering of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, and ignore the fact that it’s WCMA’s 124th year. JU
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at
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