California cheese companies produced a record 1.6 billion pounds in 2001, a 9.8 percent jump from the previous year, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
That growth was impressive considering U.S cheese production dipped 1.2 percent to 8.2 billion pounds in 2001. It was the first decline in U.S. cheese production since 1984.

California, the top milk state since 1993, is still No. 2 in cheese production. Only Wisconsin, which saw its cheese production fall 3.1 percent to 2.2 billion pounds in 2001, is more prolific. It's a two-state race to be the king of cheese: New York was a distant third, producing 709.5 million pounds of cheese in 2001. California's growth in cheese production is expected to continue, so long as the state's cows can keep pace.

“California has enough cheese plants under construction or in the planning stages to deliver at least another 300 million pounds of cheese by the end of 2004,” said Stan Andre, chief executive officer of the Modesto-based California Milk Advisory Board. Combined with production increases at existing plants, Andre said that “California will be the country's largest cheese producer within the next few years.”

The Northern San Joaquin Valley's prominent cheesemakers include Hilmar Cheese Co., Dairy Farmers of America of Turlock, Joseph Gallo Farms of Atwater, Land O' Lakes of Gustine and Leprino Foods of Tracy.

Modesto Bee