Increase in dairy consumption benefiting local production

WESTBY, Wis. (WKBT) – If you’ve seen yourself going to the grocery store more often to buy dairy products, you’re not alone.

The latest research shows Americans are eating 653 pounds of dairy per person a year, the highest rate in six decades.

Those familiar with the small town of Westby know this:

“We are the cottage cheese capital of Wisconsin,” Westby Co-Operative Creamery sales & marketing manager Emily Bialkowski said.

The creamery is the only cottage cheese manufacturer in the state, Bialkowski says.

“So we typically produce 13 to 14 million pounds of cottage cheese a year,” Bialkowski said. “And we’re on pace to make that same amount this year.”

A big reason why? The pandemic.

“We had a lot of restaurants close down,” Bialkowski said. “And that drove people to the grocery store.”

Bialkowski says demand at grocery stores is helping workers stay employed and their co-op farmers sell off their products to the creamery.

“So we did no dumping of milk,” Bialkowski said.

But the pandemic isn’t the only cause for more people eating more dairy.

“It’s been growing really, literally since the 1960s,” UW-Madison director of dairy policy analysis Mark Stephenson said.

The driving factor? Cheese.

“So, cheese consumption is well up, and cheese represents an awful lot of milk,” Stephenson said.

Despite dairy consumption going up, dairy farms in Wisconsin continue to decline. Last year, the state lost 818 dairy farms, the most ever in a year, according to the Farm Journal.

“We don’t wanna see a demise of a dairy industry, and I don’t think we are seeing that,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson says more milk is being produced than ever, despite fewer dairy farms.

“Farms have been growing larger,” Stephenson said. “Our cows keep becoming genetically better, genetically superior over time.”

Westby is showing their support for hard-working farmers.

“Some of our teammates thought it would be really neat to turn this silo on Main Street in Westby into a giant cottage cheese container,” Bialkowski said.

And it’s only fitting dairy sales are strong this year.

“Dairy is part of our upbringing,” Bialkowski said.

Stephenson says each American ate about 14 pounds of cheese back in 1975. Last year, that grew to 38 pounds of cheese consumption per person.

And fun fact, the food being stored in the cottage cheese silo outside the creamery in Westby is not actually cottage cheese, but rather yogurt.