Wisconsin Grudge Match: Beer v. Cheese

Tom Giffey

Sure, beer is what made Wisconsin (or at least its biggest city) famous. But in nearly every objective category, our cheese industry overshadows brewing.

Annual Production

Beer: 10.2 million barrels (2016)

Cheese: 3.24 billion pounds (2016)

Production Rank Among States

Beer: No. 9 (2016)

Cheese: No. 1 (2016)

Total Per Capita Production

Beer: 54.7 gallons per resident (2016)

Cheese: 561 pounds per resident (2016)

Share of U.S. Total

Beer: 5.2% (2016)

Cheese: 26.6% (2016)

Bars vs. Dairy Farms

Beer: The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are 2,782 drinking places in the state (2015), while the Tavern League of Wisconsin has more than 5,000 members.

Cheese: The state had 9,520 licensed dairy herds as of 2016, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Number of Jobs

Beer: 35,044 people work directly in brewing, distributing, and selling beer with a payroll of just over $1 billion (2016)

Cheese: 78,900 in dairy farming and processing (and remember, about 90 percent of Wisconsin milk becomes cheese) (2012)

Direct Economic Impact

Beer: $4.1 billion (2016)

Cheese: $22.5 billion (entire dairy industry, 2012)

Indirect Economic Impact

Beer: $10.5 billion (2016)

Cheese: $43.4 billion (entire dairy industry, 2012)

Official Status

Beer: While a tall, cold one makes many people think fondly of Wisconsin, beer has never been made an official symbol of the state. The polka, however, is the official state dance, and the old oom-pah-pah just isn’t the same unless you roll out the barrel.

Cheese: Bills naming cheese the official state snack and Lactococcus lactis (the bacterium that makes cheese) as the official state microbe both failed in the state Legislature in recent years. However, milk is the state beverage, and the cow is the state domestic animal.

Sources: Beer Institute (beerinstitute.org), National Beer Wholesalers Association, U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Brewers Association (BrewersAssociation.org), Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (EatWisconsinCheese.com), UW-Madison Department of Agriculture & Applied Economics, U.S. Census Bureau County Business Patterns, Wisconsin Tavern League.