Summer grillers have a new source for fun recipes this summer: The Cheese and Burger Society website, which features “The Inaugural 30 Cheeseburgers” recipe series, courtesy of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

It’s one of five websites developed as part of an extensive content marketing strategy for the Board, who is tasked with promoting and protecting the Wisconsin cheese industry’s 160-year-old brand and reputation.

“Our feeling here is we have this huge responsibility when we’re talking about Wisconsin Cheese,” said Patrick Geoghegan, senior vice president of corporate communications at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. “We have to take care of this brand and honor it.”

Part of honoring the brand was upgrading its image in the eyes of consumers, who five years ago thought of Wisconsin as a ‘reliable’ source of cheese – particularly cheddar — but not much more, Geoghegan said. With more than 600 varieties and styles of cheese to promote, a limited budget and a national scope, Geoghegan and his team embarked on a campaign to engage consumers, build a following of supporters – and have fun doing it.

“In late 2007, content marketing and social marketing really hadn’t taken off like it has over the last two years,” he said. “For us, it was an opportunity to zig where others were zagging.”

Five-Site Strategy

At the core of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s strategy is its main website, EatWisconsinCheese.org, which offers information for consumers as well as retail and foodservice professionals looking for answers to their FAQs on cheese and cheese-making in the state. In addition to recipes from celebrity Chef Ben Ford and a variety of food bloggers, the site offers a Learning Center for those invested in the cheese industry. Visitors can also watch a series of videos on topics ranging from ways to celebrate Oktoberfest with cheese to creating party platters for the holidays.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board then launches off to four other microsites that drill down into more specific topics. The electronic recipe index of cheeseburgers on cheeseandburger.com features the voice of Patrick Warburton, the actor best known for his portrayal of “Puddy” on the television comedy “Seinfeld,” offering humorous commentary on each recipe and the type of cheese it uses.

The site has developed a global following, from Australia to Denmark, where some groups hold monthly get-togethers to cook different burgers and wear Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board gear.

“It’s really about engagement,” Geoghegan said. “When they go onto our cheese and burger site, they’re with us for five or six minutes. It’s an amazing thing we’re seeing.”

Inspiring Restaurateurs

The “Grilled Cheese Academy” offers its own set of 30 recipes, this time for a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches, and also hosts an annual contest for new recipe ideas. The concept of sophisticated grilled cheese sandwiches caught the attention of restaurateurs such as the Melthouse Bistro outside of Milwaukee, which makes all of the Board’s recommended sandwiches, Geoghegan said.

DairyDoingMore.org, provides education and information about Wisconsin’s dairy industry, while the last site, The Wisconsin Cheese Cupid at www.cheesecupid.com, helps users pair up cheeses with their favorite alcoholic drinks.

Geoghegan estimates the campaign has reached 100 million households in the U.S., and noted that in a recent U.S. survey that asked individuals, “When you think of cheese, what geography do you think of?” about 60 percent responded “Wisconsin,” followed by 12 percent, who said “France.”

“Certainly the perceptions (about Wisconsin cheese) are changing. We’re making progress here,” he said.