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NMPF holds the virtual "Cheese Contest that Could"

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Despite social distancing, NMPF went the distance to host virtual cheese contest.

While many organizers have had to shelf their competitions due to the coronavirus pandemic including cheese contests, National Milk Producers Federation decided to host a virtual event - complete with the sampling of world-class cheeses. 

NMPF coordinators Jamie Jonker and Miquela Hanselman decided to tackle the project coordinating judging from multiple locations. Donated storage spaces and smaller cheese blocks played their role – as did continual ingenuity from a team determined not to let a pandemic upend a cherished dairy tradition.

The winners from 22 different classes, including 21 cheesemakers from Wisconsin were announced for the first-ever virtual cheese contest – one believed to be the first nationwide U.S. cheese contest of the virtual era – last week.

“I think it’s important that while we are in strange and unique times because of the pandemic, that some things still continue to happen as normal course of order,” said Jonker, NMPF’s staff scientist and a 16-year veteran of the competition. “The most rewarding part is that, unless we told people about how we did it, most people wouldn’t understand that it was any different from other years. And I think that’s a testament to the great team that we’ve got at National Milk, our cheese judges, and our co-ops that enter the cheese every year for really making it seem like nothing was different, even though everything was different.”

Wisconsin Winners

Chairman’s Reserve award – Select Milk Procurers, Inc., Monticello - Smoked Gouda

Mild Cheddar – Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI), Blair, first; Land O’Lakes Inc, Kiel, third.

Medium Cheddar – Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc, Shullsburg, second; Land O’Lakes, Kiel, third.

Hard & Mold Ripened Italian – Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc., Mindoro, Mindoro Collection Pasteurized Gorgonzola wheel, third.

Swiss – Select Milk Producers Inc, Monticello, Sweet Swiss, third.

Processed American Plain – AMPI, Portage, American Swiss Pasteurized Process Cheese slice-on-slice, second; AMPI, Portage, EZ Melt American Pasteurized Process Cheese Loaf, third.

Processed American Flavored – AMPI, Portage, Pasteurized Process Monterey Jack and American Cheese with Red Bell and Jalapeno Peppers, first; AMPI, Portage, Hot Pepper Pasteurized Process Cheese Food Loaf, second; Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, New London, Ghost Pepper American, third.

Hot or Spicy Flavor – AMPI, Jim Falls, Pepper Jack, second; Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Comstock, Habanero Ghost Pepper Monterey Jack Cheese, third.

Unique or Mild Flavor – Select Milk Producers Inc, Monticello, Smoked Gouda, first; Select Milk Producers Inc, Monticello, Havarti, second.

Natural Cheese Snack – Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Ellsworth, Natural Cheddar Cheese Curds, first; Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Ellsworth, Ranch Cheddar Cheese Curds, second.

Processed Cheese Snack – Land O’Lakes, Spencer, Queso Brave White Cheese Dip, first; Land O’Lakes, Spencer, Taco Bueno Red Pepper Jalapeno, second; Land O’Lakes, Spencer, Extra Melt White Cheese Sauce, third.