While 2001 cheese production in the U.S. fell for the first time since 1984, California's cheese industry grew 9.8 percent last year to 1.6 billion pounds.
According to USDA estimates, the nationwide drop was a slight 1.2 percent, down to 8.15 billion pounds.
According to a report on Just-Food.com, California became the country's top milk producer in 1993 and its second-largest cheese producer. Some cheese industry watchers expect the state eventually will pass Wisconsin in total cheese production.
Last year Wisconsin produced 2.1 billion pounds, 3.1 percent lower than the year before.
"California currently has enough new 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 G. Andre, CEO of the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB). "That, combined with continued increased production at existing plants, clearly indicates California will become the country's largest cheese producer within the next few years."
California currently produces 20 percent of all U.S.-made cheese.