Ten award-winning cheeses to headline Championship Cheese Auction

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Marieke Gouda smoked gouda was one of 20 finalists in the World Championship Cheese Contest on March 5, 2020, in Madison.

Many award-winning cheeses will be auctioned off to cheese lovers Apr. 7 at the virtual Championship Cheese Auction, hosted by CheeseExpo Global Online.

The ten chosen cheeses have all won world and US cheese championships at least once, with several having won multiple times. The livestream will begin at 3 pm CST and bids will be accepted on HiBid. The proceeds from the auction will support training and education initiatives of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

Here's what you can take home if you win:

  • 40-pound block of sharp cheddar from Agropur, Inc.
  • 40-pound block of sharp cheddar from Cabot Cheese in Cabot, Vt.
  • Grand Cru Surchoix, 18 pounds, from Emmi Roth USA
  • Original Dutch Gouda, 22 pounds, from FrieslandCampina in The Netherlands
  • 9-pound wedge of Le Gruyère, from Gourmino & Bergkäserei Fritzenhaus in Switzerland
  • Baby Swiss, 5 pounds, from Guggisberg Cheese in Millersburg, Ohio
  • Evalon, 10 pounds, from LaClare Farms with Mosaic Meadows
  • Marieke Gouda Mature, 18 pounds, from Marieke Gouda
  • SarVecchio Parmesan, 20 pounds, from Sartori
  • Esquirrou, 5 pounds, from Savencia Fromage & Dairy in France

As part of a virtual preview to CheeseExpo Global Online, John Umhoefer, executive director of WCMA, shared the history of the World Championship Cheese Contest with past and present chief cheese judges Bill Schlinsog, Bob Aschebrock and Jim Mueller.

From left, clockwise: Bob Aschebrock; Bill Schlinsog; Dave Umhoefer; and David Mueller.

Schlinsog first began as a chief contest judge in 1984, while Aschebrock came on board in 2005 and Mueller in 2020. Mueller began grading cheese at his father's cheese plant at age eight, helping him gain the eye for the job. Aschebrock, who began grading cheese for USDA for their military and school food programs, said the cheese contest has helped the quality of cheese improve.

"As far as I'm concerned, the quality of the products (has) improved over the years since 1987, since I was judging," Aschebrock said. "You can see it every year, the quality goes up. The products are getting better and better all the time."

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Umhoefer said there were merely 18 classes of cheese to be judged at the annual championship – now, there's 181 classes.

One of those classes, of course, is the fresh cheese curd, a Wisconsin favorite. Chad Galer of the National Dairy Council and Gurth Pretty of Lakeview Cheese are also contest judges, and they walked viewers through a virtual version of cheese judging. Pretty, who's a Montréal native, said cheese curds are like potato chips to Canadians.

"We go and buy a fresh bag of curds every day and they may not last longer than 10 minutes," Pretty said.

"I'm a native Wisconsinite ... who grew up eating them as well, so I have the same memory and nostalgia for them," Galer added. "You buy two bags, you finish one in the car and have one when you get home."

Chad Galer, left, and Gurth Pretty, right

Galer explained that they use a scorecard to judge each cheese. The points begin at 100, and each point deduction is taken from that. He said they first look at the cheese in the package, checking for crumbs (called fines), excess moisture and general condition of the cheese.

The best curds, Pretty said, are those that are irregular in shape because they have an artisanal look. He also tests the curds for resiliency and how they break apart. Curds shouldn't crumble and should be a little resistant to breaking. Another point of consideration is the smell; Pretty explained that the cheese should not smell like ammonia or contain bitterness. Overall, it's important to taste the milk itself in the curd without salt or other flavors overpowering it.

"You want to make sure you taste the cheese. (It's) finding that balance. When you go to flavor cheese it's really tough, but that's what we're looking for as judges in the competition. And it's still cheesy, but not overpowering flavor," Galer said.

And of course, they checked for a squeak when you bite it – that's how you know it's fresh.

Judges John Jaeggi and Dean Sommer of the University of Wisconsin Madison Center for Dairy Research also demonstrated cheese judging, except this time it was for a round of surface ripened, semi-soft cheese.

John Jaeggi, left, and Dean Sommer, right

First impressions matter a lot to cheese judges, Jaeggi and Sommer said. They evaluate the packaging like Galer and Pretty did, but for this kind of cheese, extra steps need to be taken for the visual account. Jaeggi said they look at things like excess mold and discoloration on the surface. But that's not always a deduction – they also want to know the cheese maker's intent.

"As judges, we want to know what the intent of the manufacturer is. Is their intent to have a homogeneous surface or is the intent to have a multi-fluoro, multi-color surface of molds, yeasts and bacteria," Jaeggi said. "And neither is right or wrong."

Jaeggi said the next step is the "smell test." They also check for ammonia because that can indicate the cheese is overripe. After that, he cuts a cross-section of the cheese to evaluate the balance of the ripening on the inside, as well as taste the rind for any bitterness, and finally the cheese itself. Overall, he wants to taste a clean flavor profile with the milk coming through, without too much salt or any gel-like texture.

"It's a very nice cheese, it would score very well in a contest. It would be under discussion. Both Dean and I would (judge that to) be ... 98 and a half (points)," Jaeggi said. "You really want to be within a point, point and a half. If you start getting two points off, you kind of need to recalibrate."