Thanks to an ambitious group of fourth-graders over at Mineral Point Elementary School, cheese might just get a new, super exciting distinction: becoming Wisconsin’s official state dairy product.
As of 1971, the dairy cow has enjoyed its status as Wisconsin’s official domestic animal. And ever since 1987, milk has been hailed as the state’s official beverage. But cheese, a huge source of income for the state and an enticing lure for tourists, too, doesn’t actually have any sort of state-sponsored recognition yet.
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The state produces nearly a quarter of the 11 billion pounds of cheese produced in the U.S. per year, and Wisconsin cheeses often take home top awards at the World and U.S. Cheese Championships.
So, what gives?
That’s what Mrs. Ross, Mrs. Grimm, and Mrs. Doyle asked their students as they worked to churn out a research project that proposed cheese to be one of the new symbols of their great state.
“Every year, we start the year off learning about Wisconsin history,” Livia Doyle told Food and Wine in a phone interview. “So, each year we begin to explore and discover our great state by introducing the many state symbols. Quickly, we realized that that a few important symbols were missing.”
Olivia Wilson is one of the fourth graders at Mineral Point who couldn’t believe cheese hadn’t already been rewarded with some sort of state-sponsored recognition. As she told Wisconsin’s WSAW News Channel 7, "We're in America's dairy land. I thought that would be the first state symbol."
That’s when the class decided to take action. “We divided and conquered,” Doyle continued. “A couple students researched the history of cheese, and others added the health benefits. Soon, we had a formal presentation that was about 30 minutes long. The kids wanted to stay in from recess to practice!”
At long last, they were ready to contact Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Todd Novak, who traveled came down to Mineral Point on January 31 to hear what the students had to say.
Shortly afterwards, the students and their teachers were invited to attend a hearing. “It was a formal joint session held by two committees, and our whole class went to present their research once again,” said Doyle. "It was so exciting for them."
The vote was unanimous, and the cheese motion was moved to the floor. On Thursday, a state Senate committee will hold a hearing to finalize their decision about cheese's possible new status as an official state symbol.
In the meantime, of course, Mrs. Doyle and her fellow teachers, along with their students, have some shopping to do at their local farmer’s market.
“There has to be cheese, of course, for our representatives to sample.”