Wisconsin cheese makers represented the state well in the finals at the World Championship Cheese contest in Madison last week, dominating many of the categories and earning 33 gold medals.
Four of the “Sweet Sixteen” finalists were from Wisconsin -- and three of those cheesemakers were women.
The four Wisconsin finalists were: Marieke Gouda Super from Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp; American Grana Parmesan from BelGioioso Cheese in Green Bay; Evalon, a hard goat’s milk cheese from LaClare Farms in Malone; Meadow Melody Grande, a hard mixed-milk cheese from Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby.
Wisconsin had one of the top three cheese winners in 46 different categories.
This year was the 30th World Cheese Championships, organized and sponsored by the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association. The contest is held every other year in Madison and organizers said it was the largest in the contest’s history.
John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association, said the contest was “huge” with 51,000 pounds of cheese. “I’ll put it this way – we had to add a fourth truck,” he said with a laugh.
When he started with the WCMA there were six judges. This year there were 50, from all over the United States and the world. “There were 500 entries back then and 2,615 now. I think it reflects the cheesemakers branching out but also indicates that they are paying attention to the contest.
“There were 900 international entries. Spain for example went from 40 entries to 140,” he told Wisconsin State Farmer.
The cheese that was entered in the contest was compiled at a warehouse in Little Chute and 50 volunteers worked to unpack boxes and get the cheese ready for the competition.
Umhoefer said the contest relies on the 250 or so volunteers who make it possible. “We literally couldn’t do it without them. It’s a labor of love for the industry. They take time off from work to do this.”
As hundreds of cheese connoisseurs tasted groaning tables full of contest entries that didn’t make the finals, the team of judges rotated through the finalists to choose the top three. A few years ago the judging team had upgraded to tablet computers to help get the winners tabulated sooner.
The paper ballots they used to use dragged the process out, Umhoefer said.
Judges from as far away as Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland – 26 countries in all – did the final round of judging as the 600 paying guests watched and listened, learning more about the cheese they were tasting.
The judges are selected on their experience as cheese judges, cheese makers, professors, buyers and are backed up by references, said chief judge Bob Aschebrock.
A Swiss Emmentaler was named the 2014 World Championship Cheese, besting the 2,615 entries from 22 countries. Cheesemaker Gerard Sinnesberger from Kaserei Sinnesberger in Gams, Switzerland, won with his Original Schweizer Rohmilch Emmentaler, a large format, big wheel Swiss.
It was one of several cheese entries that was so large it took three judges to carry it back to the stage – and it had been cut in half for the judging.
Out of possible 100 points, the Emmentaler scored 97.85 in the final round of judging, during which judges re-evaluated the top 16 gold-winning cheeses to determine the overall champion.
First runner-up in the contest, with a score of 97.689, is Erzherzog Johann, made by Alois Pichler and Team at Obersteirische Molkerei eGen in Knittelfeld, Austria.
Second runner-up with a score of 97.575 is Gruyere AOP, made by Fromagerie Moleson in Orsonnens, Switzerland.
Overall, U.S. cheesemakers dominated the competition, earning gold medals in 59 of the total 90 categories judged. Switzerland came in second among the countries, with seven golds. Netherlands had five gold medals, Austria and Canada each took four, Denmark and Spain each earned three, while Croatia, Germany and Portugal each captured one apiece.
Among U.S. states, Wisconsin dominated with 33 gold medals. Vermont and New York took five golds, while California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio each earned two. Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Dakota each took one gold medal.
Cheesemakers from the United States haven’t taken the top spot since 1988, even as Wisconsin dominates the gold medal count among states.
“We’re excited to see Wisconsin quality cheeses recognized worldwide,” said Wisconsin’s Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel.
“There’s a reason Wisconsin cheese production is number one in the nation. It all comes back to the skill, craftsmanship and dedication of cheesemakers around the state who produce more than 600 varieties of high quality cheeses. Thank you to all Wisconsin cheesemakers for continuing to make our cheeses world renown.”
The World Championship Cheese Contest, which dates to 1957, is the largest technical cheese and butter competition in the world.
For more information on the contest, as well as complete results for all entry classes and contest photos, visitwww.worldchampioncheese.org