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Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin promotes cheese with Valentine's Day giveaway
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There are plenty of cheesy — both in the literal and figurative senses — puns to be made as Valentine’s Day approaches, and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin is availing themselves of that opportunity to promote Wisconsin cheese — and then give it away.

“Wisconsin Cheese officially declares cheese as the universal love language of 2021,” a statement from the organization reads. “With a stinky 2020 that had us feeling bleu, there’s no cheddar way to celebrate a gouda Valentine’s Day than by sending a complimentary heart-shaped box of Wisconsin Cheese.”

To fulfill that statement, 500 nominated recipients will indeed receive a personalized Valentine’s Day-themed box of Wisconsin Cheese, sponsored by DFW, come February.

The limited-edition boxes, valued at about $100 each, will feature five specialty Wisconsin cheeses packaged in a keepsake heart-shaped box with cheese-themed cover art designed by nationally recognized illustrator Libby VanderPloeg. To personalize the box, the nominator can add the nominee’s name and one of three greetings — each one imbued with its own share of cheese-centric wordplay. Nominators are also asked to share why they’re nominating the person they are.

Nominators can choose to enter friends, family, significant others, coworkers or whoever else they may think would enjoy the prize. Following the nomination period and random drawing for winners, boxes will be sent out so that they will be received by Valentine’s Day.

“People are excited,” Chief Marketing Officer for Wisconsin Cheese and Senior Vice President for DFW Suzanne Fanning said, noting that as of mid-last week, thousands of entries had already been received. “It’s an unexpected twist” on the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts like chocolate and flowers.

The promotion is also a “more inclusive” way to celebrate the Valentine’s Day holiday and is suitable for celebrating a wide variety of relationship statuses, Fanning said. For people on some specific diets, cheese can also prove to be a “wonderful, quirky solution,” she said.

By giving away the boxes of cheese, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin hopes to show cheese lovers everywhere that “Wisconsin gets them” and that “we understand cheese is your love language” because it’s theirs, too, Fanning said.

“We are a state that’s completely obsessed with cheese,” she said.

Recipients aren’t the only ones who are able to get enjoyment out of the promotion either, though. The companies making the cheese that goes inside the boxes are able to find some benefit as well.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Rebekah Henschel, one of the fourth-generation owners of Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese near Kiel, said of the cheese box giveaway.

Henning’s maple bourbon cheddar is one of the five cheeses being packaged in each of the boxes.

The maple bourbon cheddar is a fairly recent addition to Henning’s lineup, Henschel said. The cheese is intended to be seasonal, with some of the company’s national outlets picking it up for the holiday season and an intent to keep the cheese going through the maple season.

The cheese is the creation of Henning’s Master Cheesemaker Kerry Henning, whose experiments with bourbon cheeses yielded caramel notes that ultimately paired well with the maple flavor, Henschel said.

The other cheeses in the box include Crave Brothers chocolate mascarpone, Cedar Grove butterkäse, Wood River Creamery black truffle cheddar gruyere and Roth buttermilk blue.

Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin aims to represent all of their cheesemakers and rotates through promoting different cheeses, Fanning said.

The cheese box promotion has an added benefit for the featured cheesemakers in that it will ideally get their unique cheeses into consumers’ hands in a minimal-risk fashion.

Henschel said that it’s been very challenging to release new cheeses during the pandemic because the in-store demos that they rely on to get new flavors — which some may be reluctant to purchase without trying — into consumers’ mouths haven’t been able to happen.

Fanning said that they’re hoping that the buzz being created about Wisconsin cheese “goes well beyond this one promotion.”

The For the Love of Cheese giveaway is just one of several ways that Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, which isn’t a retailer itself but markets the Proudly Wisconsin Cheese badge, works to create conversations about and promote cheese crafted in the state.

The aim is highlight what makes the Wisconsin cheese industry special and spread the idea that “we make the best cheese in the world,” Fanning said.

Last year, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin promoted and celebrated National Cheese Lover’s Day. But because National Cheese Lover’s Day, Jan. 20, coincided with a different national spotlight, Inauguration Day, this year, Fanning said that they decided to take over a larger portion of time between the start of the new year and Valentine’s Day.

Other efforts have also shifted in the last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organized under the umbrella of Wisconsin Cheese, the cheese lovers community Cheeselandia has been holding virtual events on a roughly monthly basis, Fanning said. Those events, with a limited amount of attendees, are so popular that they tend to fill up in minutes, she said.

Ultimately, the goal of the cheese box giveaway, like other promotional efforts, is to get consumers talking about DFW’s key messages and for farmers to be able to see what DFW is doing on their behalf, Fanning said.

Nominate someone to receive a personalized cheese box on the For the Love of Cheese website at wisconsincheese.com/fortheloveofcheese. Full contest rules can also be accessed on that page. Nominations are open through Jan. 31.

While the personalized heart-shaped boxes are only available through the giveaway, for those who miss out on the contest (or who want to guarantee a cheesy Valentine’s Day gift), Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin also has links to a variety of other gift baskets that are for sale and to Wisconsin cheesemakers’ stores on the wisconsincheese.com website. The website also has pairing guides and Valentine’s Day recipes.

Changing lives daily
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Since 1986 our country has celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday in January. This federal holiday reminds us of ongoing injustices and that nonviolence can still promote change. For many Americans, this is a day of service to honor Dr. King’s legacy. He famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” Dennis Beale has an answer.

I first knew Dennis as my student at UW-Eau Claire in 2010 then later as a colleague. Now this husband and father of two young children provides mentoring, public speaking and consulting as part of his new business, Power of Perception. Dennis partners with local school districts to work with 60 Eau Claire and over 20 Chippewa Falls students.

That power of “perception” is twofold: How these African-American and biracial 6th through 12th graders see themselves (P.O.P. helps them realize they can achieve any future they imagine) and how Chippewa Valley residents view students of color (P.O.P. develops “cultural competency” in staff). Students meet with mentors, now virtually, which provides a space to be themselves and to receive guidance, sometimes on how to turn negative experiences into positive outcomes. As one presentation professed, “Let your haters be your motivators.”

The science of “implicit bias” shows how all of us have prejudices that influence the automatic ways in which our brains process information, often based on unconscious stereotypes. White is preferred to black or brown, young to old, thin to heavy, able-bodied to frail. The list goes on. We are all susceptible.

One summer day, I was heading out to an appointment when I noticed a canoe full of brown boys in front of my dock. I went back inside to make sure my sliding door was locked. This reaction was instantaneous: I just went in and checked — like a stereotypical white woman grasping her purse on an elevator. As I looked out at these kids casting for sunfish, I realized that if they’d been a boatload of blonde girls, I likely wouldn’t have considered locking. That’s implicit bias.

One of Dennis’s Facebook posts sums up his motivation: “Because I have a Black son.” His business evolved from his personal and professional experiences: from growing up with his single mom in a Chicago neighborhood rife with gun violence to earning a master’s degree and working in higher education with students of color. Dennis says he uses “pain as propane” to fuel transformation.

Dennis’s uncle, a father figure in his life, was paralyzed by a stray bullet. Last year he died of pneumonia. The day after Christmas, 2016, Dennis’s best friend was shot dead at his home in Chicago. In early 2017 Dennis started a Black Male Empowerment group at UWEC in Derek’s honor and as a way to cope with his own grief. Dennis still feels as though “I’m living through him.”

A brotherhood already existed among the student athletes he and Derek recruited for the Blugold football team. This new club solidified that commitment and also worked on changing the preconceptions Black males face, especially in a predominantly white community. The men volunteered for local charities and promoted a positive image. This led to internships and job placement. The group’s ultimate message became “less hate, more love.”

Dennis was honored with the Board of Regents 2019 Diversity Award —selected among thousands of faculty and staff in the UW System. This self-proclaimed “man of action” says, “When I tell parents their kids are in good hands, like Allstate, I mean that.” He works seven days a week to make it happen. P.O.P’s tagline says it all: “changing lives daily.”

Students in the program may receive assistance like tutoring, as well as encouragement and confidence-building. Public support for the program is always welcome, by way of sending in donations or volunteering. Dennis says, “In order to create change, we must create opportunities.” That takes money.

He may be the face of P.O.P., but he employs a staff of six mentors who look like the students they guide. Ricky Ruel, a social work major at UW-EC, calls helping students a huge blessing in his life. He says, “Being a part of something that is bigger than me ... that is my motivation.”

P.O.P. promotes Black excellence by providing guests who discuss many paths to success, from owning a barbershop to working in business or as a doctor or nurse practitioner. These professionals provide role models for students. Dennis points out that the media may highlight Black rap artists and NFL or NBA players, but a recent care package sent to students included books from the “Little Leaders” series: “Exceptional Men” and “Bold Women” in Black history.

Guest speaker D’Karlos Craig recently told students about being raised in inner city Minneapolis to now applying to a school counseling master’s program. He echoes something Dennis told him at UW-EC, “Be who you needed when you were younger.” Dennis mentored both Ricky and D’Karlos when they were students; now the two of them are paying it forward.

Dennis started his program in the Chippewa Valley because it’s a place where students of color may not have a strong voice. African-American children make up less than 1% of our total local students, and many live in poverty. Dennis says, “There’s a stigma that African-Americans can’t do certain things.”

Our community leaders in K-12 school districts and at UW-EC and Chippewa Valley Technical College have worked hard to make their schools more equitable for all students. Still, there have been public setbacks, including online racist postings about Black Male Empowerment. There are many more private slights that people of color, including children of color, deal with every day in our community. One student described these microaggressions — people saying things like “Your English is so good” or “You don’t seem Black” — as “a million mosquito bites.” One or two are not so bad but hearing comments like these over and over is wearing to say the least.

Dennis says, “Being an African American male is not easy. I walk in these shoes every day.” He humbly acknowledges that he has a voice in the Chippewa Valley but won’t brag about his leadership ability at just 32 years old.

A few weeks before his 1968 murder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. advised, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Change may take time, but it does occur. Especially with support from Dennis Beale and his team, who see their roles as leading the next generation.

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Evers: Dairy's strength key to state economy

On the heels of a State of the State address in which he promised efforts to help strengthen the state’s rural communities, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers told the state’s dairy farmers he looks forward to growing and expanding Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

“A strong dairy industry means a strong Wisconsin economy, strong communities and a strong future for the people in our state,” Evers said Jan. 21 at Dairy Strong, the Dairy Business Association’s annual conference, which was held virtually Jan. 19-21.

During his State of the State address in early January, Evers announced the state is declaring 2021 “The Year of Broadband Access” and nearly quadrupling the state’s investment in efforts to improve broadband access. Evers’ upcoming budget will call for investing about $150 million in the state’s broadband expansion grant program and another roughly $40 million in helping low income families afford high-speed internet.

Evers said there will be more budget announcements over the course of the next month or so.

“I can tell you right now, our priorities haven’t changed,” Evers said. “If anything this past year has only further highlighted the importance of our shared goals for our state.

“What you’re going to see is we’re still prioritizing investing in good schools, good roads and good health care for Wisconsinites.”

Evers said the budget will take into account the work of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity and the Taskforce on Climate Change. The climate change taskforce outlined 55 solutions to tackling climate change in Wisconsin including partnering with and empowering farmers, to address pollution and advanced better conservation practices, he said.

“I’ve said all along that our farmers and our producers are some of the most avid supporters we have as it relates to clean land, clean air and clean water because you know the value of our state’s natural resources firsthand,” Evers said. “I look forward to continuing to work with the ag community further these goals.

“We have a lot of work to do to get it done in this new year, but I know Wisconsin is up to the task.”

Evers thanked farmers for their work during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to ensure Wisconsinites and Americans across the country can put food on the table, while implementing new health precautions into their operations.

“That’s why you have been and will continue to be essential to our state,” he said. “This pandemic has affected every industry and every Wisconsinite. It has highlighted and even heightened the difficulties that our rural communities and agriculture industries are already facing.”

In 2020, Evers used $50 million of Wisconsin’s federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to provide direct aid payments to more than 15,000 farmers across the state and another $25 million to strengthen the ties between food-insecurity nonprofits and local producers to reduce waste and help provide food to families in need.

“Our dairy farmers and industry were already in a tight spot, even before we knew what 2020 had in store,” Evers said. “Now in 2021, it’s time to not only work on our immediate recovery from the pandemic, but to look beyond the pandemic and how we can move our state forward to ensure prosperity for our farmers and rural communities and our industries.”