On Wednesday evening (March 7) following two days of judging, the whole panel of international judges worked their way through the top 16 entries in the World Championship Cheese contest to select the top three entries. This year for the first time they did the final judging before hundreds of spectators in the evening who were gathered for a cheese-tasting cocktail party. Photo By Jan Shepel
Dutch Gouda is world champion cheese
It was March Madness Wisconsin-style last week as the “sweet sixteen” in the World Championship Cheese Contest were lined up, winnowed and whittled down to the final three.
After three days of judging cheese, countless hours of work from hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers, sampling by an international panel of judges and a first-ever cheese-and-cocktail party to finish off the event, the winner was a Gouda-style cheese called Vermeer.
The 2012 World Champion was a semi-soft reduced-fat cheese made at the Friesland-Campina cheese factory in Steenderen, Netherlands. Though no one from the cheese factory was at the contest to enjoy the win, Netherlands judge Peter Piersma celebrated for them during the glitzy celebration at the Monona Terrace to close the contest.
The winners can be proud of the achievement. John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, which sponsors the contest every other year, said this year’s contest drew the largest number of entrants ever.
There were 2,504 entries from 24 countries in this year’s contest. (In alternating years the cheesemakers organization sponsors the U.S. Cheese Championship.)
According to contest officials, the Vermeer scored 98.73 points out of a possible 100 points in the final round of judging, during which judges re-evaluated the top 16 — they called them the “sweet sixteen” — gold-winning cheeses to determine the overall champion.
Placing second in the contest, with a score of 98.55, was Winzer Kase, a smear-ripened semi-soft cheese made by Kaserai Grundbach company in Wattenwil, Switzerland. Third place was Appenzeller Kase, made by Karl Germann, of Appenzell, Switzerland, which scored 98.34.
Umhoefer said it was the largest technical cheese competition ever held. “Every medalist should be extremely proud of their accomplishment,” he said.
Overall, U.S. cheesemakers dominated the competition, earning gold medals in 55 of the total 82 categories that were judged. Switzerland came in second among nations with seven gold medals.
Canada had six gold medals, Denmark five, the Netherlands four, while Germany and Spain each took two. Australia and Austria each captured one apiece.
Though they didn’t win the top prizes, Wisconsin cheesemakers dominated the contest with 30 gold medals — the most of any state.
Cheesemakers from New York won nine gold medals, while California and Vermont each earned three. Idaho and South Dakota each had two gold medals. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Utah each took one gold medal.
Among those top 16 contestants in the final round four were from Wisconsin. Decatur Dairy in Brodhead had a Havarti, made by Master Cheesemaker Steve Stettler, and also a pepper-flavored Havarti in the final round.
The Lactalis American Group and cheesemaker John Burris were in the top round with their President Brie from Belmont along with Marieke Gouda Smoked from the Hollands Family Cheese Team in Thorp.
A sharp cheddar with Wisconsin ties was also in the top round. The cheese was entered by Cracker Barrel Natural Cheese Team from Agropur for Kraft Foods, so it was listed as an Illinois entry, but officials said the cheese was made in Weyauwega.
Other U.S. cheeses in the top 16 were a smoked hard cheese from Gold Creek Farms in Kamas, Utah, and an aged Cheddar from Cabot Creamery Cooperative in Cabot, Vermont.
The panel of 38 judges from many different countries tried each cheese in the final round — not speaking a word to each other or consulting on their placings.
Each judge smelled, visually examined and felt the texture of each cheese between their fingers — checking the body, texture and grain of the samples.
Taste is last, explained chief judge emeritus Bill Schlinsog. “They roll it around on their tongue and breathe out slowly through the nose. Then they spit it out so the flavors don’t carry over to the next cheese.”
Cheese blogger and promoter Jeanne Carpenter said she and Umhoefer had a casual conversation about how to wind up this year’s contest.
“We said ‘wouldn’t it be fun to eat cheese from around the world while watching the final judging in the World Cheese Championship contest?’ And from that simple thought tonight’s event happened,” she said.
Instead of 15 international cheeses, there were 50 cheeses for sampling by the 400 people who each paid $25 to be at the closing event of this year’s contest.
Umhoefer said the contest couldn’t be pulled off without the 250 volunteers who help make it possible.
OTHER WISCONSIN WINNERS
Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) had two gold-medal winning entries in the contest.
A Cheddar made by cheese makers at AMPI’s Blair plant scored a 99.5 to be named the world’s best in the mild cheddar competition. The highly competitive category included entries from countries such as Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States and Canada.
Scoring a nearly perfect 99.9, AMPI’s salted butter entry — produced at the cooperative’s plant in New Ulm, Minn. — earned an additional gold medal in the contest for AMPI.
Kiel Cheesemakers at Land O’Lakes in Kiel, won a gold medal (99.50 points) for their Cheddar entry aged one to two years and also took the gold for their Monterey Jack.
Red Barn Family Farms in Appleton earned a score of 99.80 on their Bandaged Cheddar — a Heritage Weis product — to earn a gold medal in that category. They also won a gold medal for their Bandaged Cheddar in the sharp-to-aged category with their Reserve White Cheddar.
Kiel cheesemaker Kerry Henning won the gold medal in the Colby class with 99.60 point and the Monterrey Jack class.
The gold medal for Mozzarella-part skim was won by Wisconsin cheesemaker Craig Schelling of Foremost Farms. It was produced at the Milan plant.
The team of cheesemakers at the Land O’Lakes plant in Denmark won the Provolone-mild class with their No-Smoke Provolone and DCI Cheese Company made the Aged Provolone class winner for Park Cheese in Richfield, called Il Giardino Provolone Mandarini.
The DCI Cheese Company in Richfield also had the gold medal entry in the Gorgonzola class with its Salemville Gorgonzola.
Cheese maker Johnny Stender of Bel Gioioso in Pulaski took top honors in the Parmesan class. Adam Buholzer of Klondike Cheese in Monroe took home the gold for his Feta entry and Steve Webster of Klondike won top honors for his Flavored Feta.
A dill-flavored Havarti cheese made by Luke Buholzer from Klondike Cheese took the gold medal in the Havarti-flavored category and cheesemaker Matt Erdley at Klondike had the top entry in the Brick, Muenster category.
Holland’s Family Cheese Team from Thorp also won the Flavored Gouda class with their Marieke Gouda Cumin entry.
The W and W Dairy in Monroe won the Queso Frescos category with their fresh Hispanic cheese and Decatur Dairy in Brodhead won the gold medal for their Queso Para Fundir entry.
Holland’s Family Cheese Team in Thorp won the Open Class Semi-Soft Cheese gold medal with their Marieke Golden and cheesemaker Gary Domke of the Sartori Company in Antigo had the top entry among open class hard cheeses with the Sartori Reserve Extra Aged Asiago.
Pine River Prepack in Newton won the Cold Pack Cheese category with its Extra Sharp Cheddar and a score of 99.80 and Brunkow Cheese in Darlington won the Cold Pack Cheese Spread category with its Raw Milk Cheddar with Horseradish entry.
Carr Valley Cheese Company in La Valle won the Flavored Soft and Semi-Soft Sheep’s Milk category with a score of 99.40 on its Black Sheep Truffle entry and also took home the gold in the Surface Ripened Sheep’s Milk Cheese category with its Cave Aged Marisa entry.
Sartori in Plymouth had the top entry in the Open Class Shredded Cheese category with its Sartori Reserve Shredded SarVecchio Parmesan.
Cheesemaker Lori Steele had the top entry in the Prepared Cheese Food class with her Fresh Mozzarella with Prosciutto and Basil produced by Bel Gioioso Cheese Inc., in Freedom.
For more information on the contest, as well as complete results for all entry classes and contest photos, visit www.worldchampioncheese.org.
For more on Jeanne Carpenter’s cheese-related events, see www.wisconsincheeseoriginals.com.