Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute

For more than 160 years, cheesemaking in Wisconsin has been a central part of the state's culture and agricultural heritage. As the nation's leader in cheese production, Wisconsin is known for both the quality and diversity of its cheeses. Today, because consumers are demanding more unique, distinctively flavored cheeses, specialty cheeses are the fastest-growing category in Wisconsin. For the cheesemaker, specialty products are a means both to strengthen margins and to create signature products that set them apart.

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Member Spotlight

Luke Buholzer
Vice President of Sales
Klondike Cheese Company, Monroe

A member of the fourth generation of the Buholzer family to own and operate Klondike Cheese in Monroe, Wis., Luke got his start in the business washing cheese forms at age 12. After college, armed with dual majors in marketing and management, he joined a Wisconsin specialty cheese packaging firm to gain outside experience before rejoining the family business. He now heads up sales for Klondike and is a past president and board member of WSCI.

Klondike has achieved impressive growth over the years, enough to support four and now even five generations of family involvement. What have been the biggest milestones in the company's growth?
We've had a lot of expansions, but what really put us on the map was when we began producing feta cheese in 1988. Shortly after that, we saw explosive growth and, while we have always continued to produce other award-winning varieties, too, feta became our flagship product. It continues to be a growth category, particularly as we introduce more value-added products like crumbles and new flavor variations. In 2001, we had one shift producing feta on one production line five days a week. We now have three lines and three shifts for feta production six days a week. Getting into yogurt production was another big move. It took a while to get it off the ground, but we're now expanding our yogurt production facilities, as well.

Your company is now among the largest in WSCI. Has that fact changed your relationship with the organization?
No. We've been involved in WSCI ever since I can remember and even though we're now larger than many members in terms of product lines and sales volume, it doesn't feel any different. Maybe that's because we're very much still a family business. We all face the same issues and challenges and we still really value the networking and information sharing that comes with being a member. It's a very supportive group and that's important no matter what size your company is. It also keeps us informed and up-to-date on industry programs that are available to us, through WSCI as well as other organizations that are represented at meetings, such as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection.

What are some recent accomplishments that you're most proud of?
We just did very well at the 2016 Wisconsin State Fair Cheese & Butter Contest. We won five blue ribbons and swept the flavored semi-soft cheese category. That was pretty exciting.

What single WSCI educational event has had the greatest impact on your business?
One of the meetings featured an educational session and panel discussion on what to do if your company faces a product recall. It included experts as well as cheesemakers who shared their experiences and what they learned when they lived through difficult recalls. We always thought we were prepared, but we learned a lot in that session and made a lot of improvements afterwards.

What one WSCI social or networking opportunity is your personal favorite?
I will rearrange my calendar and do whatever it takes to make sure I never miss the annual golf outing. It's always a fantastic event, and this year's was no exception -- great golfing and a full day of relaxing and socializing with friends and peers in the industry. There's nothing better!