International Cheese Technology Expo gets underway in Milwaukee

CREATED Apr 22, 2014

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MILWAUKEE - More than 3,000 cheese makers from around the world are gathering downtown Milwaukee this week to learn about the latest technologies and trends in their industry.  

They're here for the International Cheese Technology Exposition.  

"This is the largest event of its kind in the Western Hemisphere," said John Umhoefer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.   

Part of the focus at the expo will be on the newest gadgets.  

"A lot of robotics are coming in to take away some of the manual labor, the lifting. And of course a lot of the technology is automating," Umhoefer said. "The way a cheese vat works, it used to be a gentleman walking along pulling heavy knives through the curd. Now it's done through automation." 

The expo is a chance for Wisconsin cheese makers to show off. Cheese is a $26 billion dollar industry in the state -- and it's not just about cheddar any more. Twenty-five percent of cheeses that are made in Wisconsin are artisan cheeses.  

"It's hard to compete against the states out west that are making the mild cheddars now. We need to be making the good stuff," Umhoefer said.  

A cheese by-product is also hot in the industry.  

"Whey might be considered as or more valuable than the cheese itself," Umhoefer said. "Worldwide demand for whey products is astronomical right now."

Whey is used in bodybuilding supplements, infant formula, and baking.  

The expo runs Tuesday through Thursday at the Wisconsin Center.  It is not open to the public.