Johnson Leads Master Cheesemaker Program as Smukowski Retires

Andy Johnson, Outreach Specialist/Assistant Coordinator for the Cheese Group at the Center for Dairy Research (CDR), has been named Program Coordinator for the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program. Long-time Program Coordinator Marianne Smukowski retired in September. In this new role, Johnson will be coordinating plant visits, cheese grading and assisting the Master candidates as they participate in the program.

“I am thrilled by this opportunity to help lead the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program,” Johnson said. “Attaining the level of Master Cheesemaker is the pinnacle of cheesemaking and I am delighted to be a part of recognizing the talents and commitments of this group of professionals. I am also honored to follow in the path Marianne and Jim Path helped to forge. I look forward to meeting current and future Master Cheesemakers and working with the Master Cheesemaker Board and other program staff to support this important program.”

Joanne Gauthier will continue as Administrative Coordinator for the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program and will assist Johnson with the program.

“I want to give a huge thanks to Marianne Smukowski, for her leadership of the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program.” Gauthier said. “Her guidance and commitment allowed the program to flourish and grow. We now welcome Andy Johnson, we know his experience as a cheesemaker, researcher and an educator will only enhance the strong foundation of the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program.”

Smukowski served as Program Coordinator for the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program for 15 years, taking over from founder Jim Path. CDR is grateful to Smukowski who upheld the integrity and high standards of the program. Under her leadership, the program added many new master cheesemakers and cheese types.

“I have had the opportunity to meet many amazing cheesemakers and I am thankful for their friendship,” Smukowski said. “I have had the pleasure of visiting with each cheesemaker and learning about their personal journeys to becoming a Master cheesemaker. Andy, I wish you well and I hope the passion and enthusiasm continues for the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program.”

The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program is operated collaboratively between CDR and the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. The program is the only one of its kind in the U.S. and is modelled after prestigious master cheesemaker programs in Europe. To apply to the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program, cheesemakers must have 10 years of experience as a licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker (among other requirements). The rigorous program takes about three years to complete but, upon graduation, cheesemakers gain the title of “Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker” and earn the right to use the Master Mark® on the label of their cheese. To date, 91 cheesemakers have earned the title of Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker in 47 different varieties of cheeses.

Johnson has 12 years of cheesemaking experience. For the past 3 years, he has worked with CDR clients looking to develop and refine their cheeses. From his experience running cheese trials, conducting plant visits and leading short courses and presentations, Johnson’s education in business, as well as his previous experience as a specialty cheesemaker in three states, gives him the knowledge and experience necessary to lead the nation’s only master cheesemaker program.

The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker® Program was established as an advanced education program for experienced cheesemakers through a joint sponsorship between CDR, UW-Extension, and the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. This program helps enhance the quality image of what is already the nation’s premier cheesemaking state and the unparalleled standards of Wisconsin cheesemaking.