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Wisconsin cheesemakers score wins in World Championship Cheese Contest

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Sylvain Diedrichs, a representative of Savencia Cheese USA of New Holland, PA., holds the Best in Show winner during the finals of the World Championship Cheese Contest at Monona Terrace in Madison, WI., Thursday, March 8, 2018. The hard sheep's milk variety called Esquirrou bested 19 other finalists on the final day of the three day event. The contest, hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, is the largest technical cheese contest in the world and this year drew a record 3,402 entries to 121 categories.

MADISON - While a Wisconsin cheese failed to repeat as world champ at the 2018 World Championship Cheese Contest, it's bevy of cheesemakers earned a different kind of bragging rights.

Eight of the 20 entries making a bid for the top prize were cheeses hailing from the U.S., with five of those entries hailing from the Badger state. More impressive is that out of a record 3,402 entries, U.S. cheesemakers garnered 87 of the 121 category awards - with Wisconsin earning over half of those gold medals, according to the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

"Wisconsin cheesemakers once again demonstrated they are truly masters of their craft with wins from 50 different Wisconsin cheese and dairy companies in the competition," said Suzanne Fanning, VP, Marketing Communications of Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB). "The competition was a delicious celebration of cheeses from across the globe, and we congratulate all the winners in this year's contest."

Trailing far behind America's Dairyland, Idaho, New York, and Vermont tied in the state rankings with six gold medals.

Randy Swenson, from Wisconsin Aging and Grading, pulls a sample of cheese out for judging during the World Championship of Cheese Contest in Madison on March 7, 2018.

New champ named

A distinguished team of judges inhaled, tasted and scrutinized 121 classes of dairy products submitted by elite cheesemakers from 26 countries during the three-day event in Madison before naming a hard sheep's milk variety from France as the top prize winner.

Esquirrou is made in France at Mauleon Fromagerie by Michel Touyarou and imported by Pennsylvania-based Savencia Cheese USA had earned top honors. The new world champion cheese is crafted in the Pyrénées region of France, aged no less than 90 days, and features nutty notes and a toasted wheat aroma, according to the WCMA.

The French cheese succeeds the 2016 World Cheese Champion, a smear-ripened hard cheese entered by Wisconsin-based Emmi Roth USA. Grand Cru Surchoix was the  first American-made cheese to win the competition in 28 years.

Tim Omer, president of Emmi Roth from Monroe, talks about what is was like to win the World Championship of Cheese Contest two years ago during the 2018 contest on March 7, in Madison.

Earning a first runner-up finish at this year's competition was Arzberger Ursteirer, a hard cow's milk cheese aged in a silver mine made by Franz Moestl and Team of Almenland Stollenkäse in Austria. Mont Vully Bio, a raw milk cheese washed with Pinot Noir wine, made by Ewald Schafer of Fromagerie Schafer in Switzerland earned the second runner-up position.

Five Wisconsin-produced cheeses were in the hunt for the title, but just missed the cut.

  • Cheddar, aged one to two years—English Hollow Cheddar, from Maple Leaf Cheesemakers Inc., Monroe
  • Mild Gouda—Saxon Cheese Mild Gouda, from Saxon Cheese LLC, Cleveland
  • Open class category for flavored cheeses with sweet or “dessert” condiments—Satori Reserve Espresso BellaVitano
  • Hard mixed-milk cheeses—Satori Limited Edition Pastorale Blend, Sartori Co., Antigo
  • Surface (mold) ripened mixed-milk cheeses—Cave Aged Chandoka from LaClare FamilyCremery, Malone.

“To achieve this level — to be recognized by the finest judges in the world — is a humbling and inspiring experience,” said Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann, LaClare’s head cheesemaker. 

Other Wisconsin cheesemakers to win the 47 Best in Class gold medals in a variety of categories were: Springside Cheese Corp., Oconto Falls; Dorr Artisan Cheese Co., Egg Harbor; Arena Cheese, Arena; AMPI, Jim Falls (in Chippewa County); Foremost Farms USA, Clayton; Agropur, Luxemburg and Weyauwega; BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Green Bay; Agropur, Luxemburg; Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe; Aria Foods, Kaukauna; Cesar’s Cheese, Random Lake; Marieke Gouda, Thorp; Lactalis, Belmont; Saputo Cheese USA, Milwaukee; Emmi Roth, USA, Monroe; Chula Vista Cheese Co., Browntown; Specialty Cheese Co. Inc., Reeseville; Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese LLC, Waterloo; Meister Cheese, Muscoda; Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton; Schreiber Foods, Green Bay; Associated Milk Producers Inc., Portage; Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby; Eckerman Sheep Co., Antigo; Nordic Creamery, Westby; Yodelay Yogurt, Madison; Masters Gallery Foods Inc., Plymouth; and Carr Valley Cheese, La Valle.

The World Championship Cheese Contest, initiated in 1957, is the largest technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition in the world, according to the cheesemakers association. For more information, including complete results for all entry classes, visit WorldChampionCheese.org.

Associated Press contributed to this article.