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March Madness Cheese Challenge

Last year, we chose 32 local cheeses and put them in head-to-head competitions over three weekends. Hundreds of you showed up over the course of these competitions andsampled the cheeses at our sampling stations at Willy East and Willy West. You cast votes. Winners were determined. Moving into the next round, the Squeaky Sixteen, many favorites were identified by customers and staff alike. That weekend however, saw some pretty shocking upsets. Pleasant Ridge Reserve fell to Carr Valley’s Marisa. Sartori’s Bellavitano was crushed by Brenda Jensen’s Bohemian Blue and Marieke Penterman’s aged gouda lost to Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage de Brebis. The common denominator here? All three upsets were won by sheep-milk cheeses! Here’s a little recap of the cheeses that made it through the Squeaky Sixteen to advance to the Edible Eight:

Edible Eight
Carr Valley Marisa
Roelli Cheese Dunbarton Blue
Landmark Creamery Petit Nuage de Brebis
Red Barn Farms Heritage 3 Year Weis Cheddar
Capri Cheese Fromage Blanc
Creme de la Coulee St. Jenifer
Renard’s 2 Year Cheddar
Hidden Springs Bohemian Blue
We were, to put it mildly, surprised (but very pleased!), by this mid-tournament line-up: three sheep-milk cheeses, two blue cheeses, two fresh cheeses, one stinky washed-rind and only two cheddars. I think it goes to show that you all are a more discerning cheese audience than Wisconsinites are normally given credit for being. Bravo! That weekend of competition had some more close and heated matches, spurred on by your voting. Chris Roelli’s Dunbarton Blue snuck past Renard’s 2 Year Cheddar by only two votes. In a battle of the up-and-coming cheesemakers, Bill Anderson’s St. Jenifer beat out Anna Landmark’s Petit Nuage. Both cheesemakers were in attendance, even, lobbying for their creations! Our Fromage Final Four was cast:

Fromage Final Four
Carr Valley Marisa
Roelli Cheese Dunbarton Blue
Creme de la Coulee St. Jenifer
Red Barn Farms Heritage 3 Year Weis Cheddar
The final weekend of the event saw high vote counts, lots of foot traffic from all of you, and great participation on social media. Dunbarton Blue beat St. Jenifer at Willy East. Marisa, in another surprising result, beat the 3 Year Cheddar to pit Chris Roelli’s English farmhouse-style cheddar-blue against Sid Cook’s fan-favorite sheep-milk cheese against one another in the Cheese Championship. The final event was held simultaneously at both stores, and Dunbarton Blue won in a landslide, giving us our 2015 Willy Street Co-op Cheese Challenge Champion!

We loved doing this with you last year. So we’re doing it again! It is with great pleasure that I can formally announce that Willy Street Co-op’s 2016 Cheese Challenge will begin on Thursday, March 17th and run until April 3rd! Yes, it will begin on St. Patrick’s Day. We don’t want to make it weird and distract you from your corned beef, soda bread, or other holiday specific procurement—just take a moment on that Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday to cast a vote or two in our Round of 32! We don’t know who will be competing yet. The field will be different than last year, but we will likely see some returning faces out for vengeance! Like last year, competitions will be held at our sampling stations (next to the Cheese department at Willy East, in the Produce department at Willy West). Come and taste the competitors and register a vote for your favorites. Competitions will likely be held in the early afternoon into the evening. We will let you know exact times as soon as we have them set!

Cheese bracket challenge
As an added wrinkle, this year we would like to invite you to fill out a Cheese Challenge Bracket. We want to see who among you thinks they can predict the twists and turns of this event! You can’t rely on ESPN or the wasteland of online sports punditry to help you fill out these brackets—you might just have to camp out in the Cheese Departments if you want to pick up insights into which cheeses will advance. We welcome the conversation! We expect to have brackets available in printed form at both Willy East and Willy West cheese counters as well as on our website for downloading and printing. These should be available sometime in the first week of March. Once you’ve completed your bracket, we will have vote-boxes set up in both stores to collect them—much like how it looks during other Co-op related voting events. Make sure you keep a copy for yourself so you can follow along with the competition! We will have a stellar, cheese-related prize to give away to those that get the closest in their predictions. To those that don’t quite make it, never fear, we shall put many of our competitors on sale following the final event for you to partake in! So, prime your tasters, sharpen your pencils, and get ready to vote for your favorites. We hope to see you all this March for this fun-filled event!

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