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Leading in Cheesiness

November 13, 2003

Finally, after firestorms, the recall and the budget deficit, Californians become first in something to be proud of -- and eat. Sure, our state has more residents, legal or otherwise. More major league baseball teams than any state and more NFL teams than Nevada, Utah, Montana, Colorado and Arizona put together. California is No. 1 in traffic congestion, sidewalk stars, aspiring screenwriters and residents named Keanu. We have the silliest housing prices, smoggiest skies and most convertibles with vanity plates. The Golden State leads in saline implants, skin cancer and doubtful blonds. We also have the first theme park built around a mouse and the largest park named for Yosemite Sam. We're coming on in raspberry production, too.

But now the California Milk Advisory Board (how much advice does milk need?) has announced that at some point soon, maybe by 2005, California will become the nation's big quesadilla of cheese-making.

Many Americans had thought California already No. 1 in cheesiness. But no, it's bye-bye time for Wisconsin, which will now be known for its former beer production and autumnal deer slaughter. That state has long been the nation's overall dairy leader among those who track such things. For those who don't, Wisconsin added America's Dairy State to its license plates. Dairying is huge in Wisconsin because, well, it's a lovely, quiet place, perfect for cud-chewing. But judging from those Green Bay cheese hats, there's not a lot to do in Wisconsin but cheer for the Brewers (beer again) and those meaty packers, who see to dairy cows between their milking days and Burger King.

Thanks to its felicitous climate and lax bovine immigration rules, California now has 1.7 million four-legged milk makers, about four times as many cows as Wyoming has people. By touching cows in unusual places, Californians already produce 20% of the nation's milk and cheese. California is the leading producer state of milk, butter, ice cream and powdered milk, which doesn't come out that way. California cows, those happy commercial ones who think earthquakes are soothing foot massages, produce $4 billion in milk each year and churn out 1.7 billion pounds of cheese in some 200 varieties of fermenting milk. Wisconsin's decaying cheese sales stand at 2.2 billion pounds a year.

This impending cheese change is something for Californians to cheer about as the wildfire and recall smoke clears. Also a good time to ponder what exactly that first brave prehistoric man was thinking, as he contemplated what to do with a cow before becoming history's first dairy farmer.

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