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Joined by a future cheese maker, technology manager Dan Stearns of the Agropur plant at Weyauwega posed behind the medium Cheddar entry, which was the second runner-up at the 2013 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest on March 13. The block was made at the Weyauwega plant but entered by Kraft Foods of Glenview, IL.

Joined by a future cheese maker, technology manager Dan Stearns of the Agropur plant at Weyauwega posed behind the medium Cheddar entry, which was the second runner-up at the 2013 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest on March 13. The block was made at the Weyauwega plant but entered by Kraft Foods of Glenview, IL. Photo By Ray Mueller

Wisconsin keeps title at U.S. Cheese Championship

March 21, 2013 | 0 comments


It could be said that the United States and world cheese championships have become an "all in the family" event. The related question is "what family?"

One answer could be that a Gouda cheese has won the last three grand championships.

Another could be that there’s a close family connection between the winner of the United States championship from the record 1,702 entries last week at Lambeau Field and the winner of the world championship a year ago.

Capping a very successful six-year run of 60 ribbon-winning entries in multiple contests, licensed head cheesemaker Marieke Penterman of Hollands Family Cheese near Thorp in Clark County claimed the U.S. championship with her entry of Marieke Gouda Mature (aged for 3-6 months) that earned a final round score of 98.305 from the panel of 38 judges.

It had received an earlier score of 99.5 to place it at the top of its class and into the final round of 16 competitors that were judged on the evening of March 13.

Shortly after Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association executive director John Umhoefer announced the top places, an elated Penterman, a native of Holland, commented that her family’s entry had "got beaten by the Dutch" in the 2012 world cheese contest.

A bit later she pointed out that her father hauls milk to the Friesland Campina plant at Wolvega in The Netherlands, which won the 2012 world championship with its Vermeer entry of fresh Gouda.

Women Winners

Penterman is the second consecutive woman and the third ever to win a U.S. cheese championship during the 17 times it has been conducted.

In 2011, she took third place with her Gouda Super entry, which had a final round score of 98.952, placing behind the Gouda-style Evalon goat milk entry (score of 99.0695) by champion Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms at Chilton, and the second-place entry of SarVecchio Parmesan (score of 98.9739) by Sartori Foods of Plymouth.

This year’s final round scores (computed by deductions from a starting score of 100) were lower across board compared to two years ago.

Taking second place this year was the semi-hard raw milk Vermont Alpine (trade name Tarentaise) made by Spring Brook Farm (Farms for City Kids Foundation) at Reading, VT. It had a final round score of 97.889 after advancing to the final round with a score of 99.75.

Taking third place in 2013 with a score of 97.883 was the medium-aged Cheddar entered by Kraft Foods of Glenview, IL. It had a direct Wisconsin connection because it was made by the Agropur Cooperative (Canada-based) plant at Weyauwega. It topped the medium Cheddar entries in the first round with a score of 99.10.

Including the Kraft Cheddar entry, Wisconsin’s cheesemakers claimed 14 of the 16 spots for the final round of judging. That group included a flavored Gouda (Foenegreek) from Holland’s Family Cheese and a low-moisture mozzarella made from whole milk and entered by Pat Doell of Agropur’s plant at Stangelville (rural Luxemburg).

Family Venture

Holland’s Family Cheese had 14 entries this year, taking home four golds, three silvers, one bronze and four fourth places.

The aged Gouda that won this year’s championship is the first of 24 flavors developed at the farmstead cheese plant, which is run by 12 employees and uses milk directly pipelined from a herd of 850 cows.

Penterman and her husband Rolf arrived in the United States in 2002 immediately after they married. Joined by his brother Sander, who had worked at a dairy farm near Baldwin since 1999, they then set up their dairy operation in Clark County and opened a creamery for making cheese by November of 2006.

The Holland’s Family cheeses are available at one or more outlets in 22 states, including a number of Whole Foods markets.

In Wisconsin, the cheeses are stocked by more than 70 sellers, including several with multiple locations. All of the outlets can be found on the www.HollandsFamilyCheese.com website.

After enduring some local opposition, the Pentermans recently obtained a zoning change from the city of Thorp (population of about 1,600) to construct a new farm with a creamery and retail store within the city limits. Located just off Highway 29, it will also be promoted as a tourist destination.

Badger Gold

Other entries from Wisconsin that advanced to the final 16 were a dill-flavored Havarti from Klondike Cheese (Dave Buholzer) at Monroe, a Brick Muenster from Zimmerman Cheese (Walter Hartwig) at South Wayne, a flavored hard entry (with rosemary) from Burnett Dairy Co-op (Bruce Willis) at Grantsburg, a semi-soft smoked Brick by Mill Creek Cheese (John Pitman) at Arena, soft Butterkase from Edelweiss Creamery at Monticello, and a hard class Romano from BelGiosioso (Bill Sikorski) at Green Bay.

In the classes for cheese made with milk from species other than dairy cows, Wisconsin’s gold placings reaching the top 16 this year were a mini Cabrie surface mold goat cheese entry from Montchevre-Betin (Jim Donahue) at Belmont, a cave-aged Marisa surface ripened sheep milk entry from Carr Valley Cheese at LaValle, an Oooch Mountain hard sheep cheese from Hidden Springs Creamery (Brenda Jensen) at Westby, and the Caso Bolo Mellage mixed milk hard cheese from Carr Valley, which makes more than 80 cheeses under the direction of Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook.

The only other final round of 16 entries was a Baby Swiss from Middlefield Cheese (Jeffrey Helm) of Middlefield, Ohio, which receives about 90 percent of its milk from Amish farms.

For the convenience and education of the crowd at the finals, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board cheese specialist Sara Hill offered a public address presentation with information with each of the final 16.

Wisconsin claimed 47 of the gold medals for the 81 judged classes. Vermont and New York followed with six each. Oregon had four while California, Idaho, Ohio, and Illinois followed with three gold medals each.

A total of 1,702 entries - up by 100 from two years ago - were received from 30 states.

The first year’s U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in 1981 attracted 183 entries. As recently as 2003, the contest had 684 entries.

This year’s entries, weighing more than 32,000 pounds in total, came from 225 different locations - an increase of 20 from two years ago. Those entries included categories for butter, prepared cheese foods, and cottage cheese.

Contest Innovations

One change for the 2013 championship judging was the use of I-pads by all of the 38 judges to record their scores. For the final round, they rotated to each of eight tables, which had two of the final round of 16 entries.

This year’s final round of judging was wrapped around a charity benefit for Paul’s Pantry, a Green Bay foodbank that distributes about 13,000 pounds of food five days a week to needy area residents, according to its director Craig Robbins. A check for $14,000 was presented to Paul’s Pantry as a result of the charity drive.

Part of that money was raised from the $25 admission fee paid by attendees at the finals judging.

Contributions were also received from the contest judges and from the charity event sponsors BelGioioso Cheese, Sargento, Sartori, Winona Foods, Novak’s Cheese, Parisi’s Delicatessen, and the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Paul’s Pantry also received a pallet of about 6,000 pounds of medium Cheddar cheese. The foodbank was founded in 1984 by the late Leo Frigo, who was the president of Frigo Cheese in northeast Wisconsin. In its nearly 30 years of operation, Paul’s Pantry has distributed more than 85 million pounds of food.

Attaching a charity event to a major cheese judging contest began a year ago with a similar venture at the world championship contest. Because of this, the final round of judging and the announcement of the results took place in the evening rather than at midday.

In the Legends Club at Lambeau Field, the nearly 250 final round attendees were treated to a buffet meal highlighted by samples of dozens of cheeses contributed by manufacturers and marketers who are members of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, which sponsors the biennial U.S. Cheese Championship Contest.

Special cheese sampling tables were also set up by six previous gold medal winners from Wisconsin - LaClare Farms of Chilton, Holland’s Family Cheese of Thorp, Sartori Cheese of Plymouth, Carr Valley Cheese of LaValle, Montchevre Betin of Belmont, and Henning’s Cheese of Kiel.

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