Nasonville Dairy worker completes prestigious Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program - TAI News
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Sara Griesbach is the third woman ever certified by the Master Cheesemaker Program in Wisconsin. (Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin)

Sara Griesbach has been making cheese since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2011. Today, she is a master cheesemaker, a feat few in the field achieve; even fewer women do.

The road to becoming a master cheesemaker is long, requiring nearly a decade of experience. Griesbach, a food and safety coordinator at Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield and Curtiss, Wisconsin, was one of 10 cheesemakers awarded the honor this year, and only the third female ever certified by the Master Cheesemaker Program since it was established in 1994. Outside of Switzerland, Wisconsin is the only place where a cheesemaker can acquire certification of this high level of achievement in the field.

“It’s male-dominant in the processing plants and just in the industry in general,” Griesbach told the Wisconsin Independent, adding: “The times are changing. There’s more opportunity. It’s not as physical labor as it was years ago. Because of technology, things are getting more automated, which does help.”

She explained that it takes several years of cheesemaking just to get a license, then another 10 years of work before one can even apply to the Master Program. Once a candidate is accepted, it takes a little under three years to complete the program. A participant’s cheese has to pass several rounds of grading by board members and finally a written test that takes 40 hours to complete..

Griesbach, whose specialties are cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, said the grading is similar to what might happen in a cheesemaking contest.

“You’re going to smell it, you’re going to taste it, you’re going to look at it,” she says. “Obviously, if you have a colored cheddar you don’t want a lot of waviness in there with the color. … They do take samples where they test it analytical to make sure that a cheddar is a cheddar because you’re based on your moisture content. It can’t be over a 39% moisture. There’s just a lot of characteristics with each cheese that you’re getting graded on.”

Griesbach said that the foundation of a great cheese is great ingredients, such as good-quality milk. She should know: Her husband is a sixth-generation dairy farmer, and together they own the Griesbach Family Farm in Stratford.

“People are just so passionate about it. You bring a cheese tray to a party and people go crazy. It’s just a way of life. People know what’s behind it. It’s not just a piece of cheese. It’s the milk came from a family farm or came from a farm, and you almost know a little bit of history behind it even just from eating it,” Griesbach said.

Griesbach applied for the Master Cheesemaking Program for the second time recently, this time to hone her feta and cheese curd-making skills.

She said cheesemaking is an art, and she’s sure that more women will be receiving the award in years to come. For now, she encourages locals to come to the Nasonville Dairy and take a tour to learn how the cheese is made.

“You’ll really learn something, and then you’ll really probably enjoy it more,” Griesbach said. “You’re going to see all the steps that it takes not just, Oh, it’s in the store.”

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