This past March, our fair city hosted the 29th World Championship Cheese Contest. Sponsored by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, this is the largest international technical cheese competition, and it comes back to Madison every two years. This year’s event had over 2,500 cheese entries as well as butter from 24 countries. It was judged by 40 cheese professionals from all over the world.

Stuart Mammel, Willy East’s Cheese Coordinator, and I attended the final evening of the event, which featured a wide array of cheese sampling and the judging of the top 16 cheeses to determine the Best in Show and runners-up. Notable among the final 16 were four cheeses from Wisconsin: two Havartis from Decatur Dairy in Brodhead, President Brie from Lactalis in Belmont, and Marieke Penterman’s Smoked Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm in Thorp. The Gold Medal went to Vermeer, a reduced-fat Gouda from Friesland Campina in the Netherlands. Silver and Bronze went to a pair of Swiss cheeses, a Smear-Ripened Winzer Kase from Kaserai, and a magnificent Appenzeller.

Despite the Euro-dominance of the final round, Wisconsin cheeses overall did very well within the Best in Class competitions, bringing in 30 Gold Medals and many more second and third place finishes. We carry quite a few of the winners here at the Co-op:

Best in their Class

  • BelGioioso Parmesan
  • Salemville Gorgonzola
  • Marieke Cumin Gouda
  • Marieke Smoked Gouda

2nd Place in their Class

  • BelGioioso Mild Provolone
  • BelGioioso Sharp Provolone
  • Deppeler Baby Swiss
  • Hidden Springs Maple-flavored Driftless spread
  • Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog (a California cheese)

3rd Place in their Class

  • Cesar’s Oaxacan String Cheese
  • Marieke Aged Gouda
  • Montchevre Soft Goat Cheese
  • Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona
  • Carr Valley Benedictine
  • Hidden Springs Meadow Melody

Marieke Penterman, of Holland’s Family Farms, clearly had a great year with her goudas. If you haven’t yet had a chance to try them, do come see us and ask for a sample. I’ve had Dutch customers claim they are the most authentic goudas they have found made in the States. Cesar Luis, maker of the delectable, hand-made Oaxacan string cheese also shared with me that he was not disappointed to have made third place in the String Cheese Class. In 2010, he placed second, but this year his overall score was higher. Notably, he was marked down for having a non-uniform surface, a product of his technique of stretching the cheese by hand instead of using a machine.

Stuart and I also had an opportunity to speak with Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms. As you may have recently read in the Wisconsin State Journal, she continues her rise to cheese stardom with the announcement of a new milking facility and creamery which will expand her production of goat-milk cheeses. We have also recently picked up her Evalon with Fenugreek and Evalon with Cumin to be sold alongside her original cheese. Both are so perfectly balanced with spice, I think even those who are usually critical of adding other flavors to cheese will be surprised and delighted by these.

Reflection
Stuart and I ended the evening with a moment of reflection on what it is that we have the privilege of doing. Namely, to support local individuals and families who took big risks to go into cheesemaking and make amazing cheeses that we are excited to carry and share with you. Not only that, but we also get to form relationships with many of them, and their successes become our own. It is our commitment and that of the Co-op’s to continue to seek out opportunities to promote these folks, the backbone of Wisconsin’s artisan cheese revival.

Steve Zahn

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