Grater ambitions: 1936 initiative paved the whey for better cheese

Missouri is nacho ordinary state when it comes to the cheese industry.

From the existence of the massive Springfield underground warehouse serving as dairy storage for Kraft, to the use of Provel that makes St. Louis-style pizza a unique signature dish, there are many interesting facts about cheese in our state.

Here’s another bit of trivia that dates back more than eight decades: In 1936, Missouri launched America’s first cheese quality improvement program.

An April 1937 article in “Missouri Business Magazine” lauded the benefits of this initiative, which outlined standards for dairy farmers. These included thorough equipment sanitation, milk straining, sediment testing, immediate cooling and low temperature transit, among other common sense regulations.

“The Missouri Cheese Quality Improvement program is of vital importance to the consuming public, who as a result of this program will be assured of receiving a quality of cheese that is uniform in flavor, body, texture and color and that is safe and wholesome,” wrote guest author W.H.E. Reid, a faculty member at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture.

 “This program is one of a highly educational nature and of vital interest to the Missouri dairyman inasmuch as it teaches him the modern methods which he must practice in order to produce a high quality of raw milk,” Reid continued.

According to Reid, there were 40 cheese processing factories in Missouri at the time, churning out 12-15 million pounds of cheddar cheese in 1935 alone. From the milk sold to produce that much product, Missouri’s dairy farmers made approximately $1,687,500 — the equivalent of around $31 million now.

Though the dairy industry has, of course, continued to improve its manufacturing and quality guidelines since 1936, Missouri was apparently the initial leader for the standards enabling the safe production of all those dairy products we chow down on today. Several other states adopted similar programs soon after the launch of Missouri’s.

Currently, there are about 30 factories in Missouri that process dairy, and our farms generate approximately $252 million in milk sales per year.

And that’s no surprise — Americans love their cheese. Between 1975 and 2017, the average consumption of cheese in the U.S. per person rose from 14.3 pounds annually to a whopping 36.9 pounds. Holy cow!

Original caption: “Milk From Healthy Herds, Prepared Under Sanitary Production Methods for the Cheese Industry, is the Standard Established by Missouri Dairymen.”

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