7 of the best cheeses in the world are made in Wisconsin, according to a contest
MADISON — If you wanted to make a charcuterie board with the best cheeses in the world (technically speaking), seven would come from cheesemakers in Wisconsin.
If you want the best cheese according to the judges of the World Cheese Competition, you are looking for Gourmino Le Gruyère from Mountain Dairy Fritzenhaus in Bern, Switzerland. This is the third time the cheese has won the highest honor in the competition after winning in 2020 and 2008.
Still, it was a strong year for Wisconsin cheesemakers with seven of the 20 finalists and winning 45 best-in-class categories. In addition to that, cheese curds made their debut in this year’s contest, and Wisconsin swept the regular and flavored categories.
Another former champion in the final was Emi Roth’s Roth Grand Cru Surchoix, the last American cheesemaker to win the World Championship Cheese Contest.
Tim Omer, president and CEO of Emi Roth, said the cheeses that typically win are aged. Their winning Grand Cru ages for 10 months.
“I love string cheese, I love cheese curds,” Omer said, “But when you have a year to mature for character and depth and nuance, and you let your cultures run and that the bacteria that are in the milk work, you have a much greater advantage because the complexity is much deeper.”
While fresh cheeses (those that aren’t aged) like curd and string didn’t make the finale, Odyssey Peppercorn Feta from Klondike Cheese Co. in Monroe scored against a slew of aged cheeses.
Other ripened cheeses from Wisconsin makers include Ocooch Reserve (a hard sheep’s milk cheese over 6 months old) from Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby and Red Rock (a bloomy-rind cheddar with a slight blue vein aged at least 60 days) from Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg.
Held every two years by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1957, the World Championship Cheese Contest has attracted 2,978 entries in 144 classes by cheesemakers from 29 countries, including the United States with entries from 33 states.
Fifty-three international experts from 16 countries and 13 states judged this year’s entries at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison.
Franco Sessa of Whitestone Cheese in New Zealand said being selected to be a judge was like being nominated for an Oscar. He has worked in the New Zealand specialty cheese industry for 21 years and has been a judge at other major cheese competitions, but this was his first time judging at the World Championship Cheese Contest.
He said all of the finalists were nearly perfect and you really had to look for a reason to deduct points from one of them.
Cheese graders, cheese buyers, dairy science teachers and researchers with over 700 combined years in the dairy processing industry have scored cheeses in three rounds to determine best in class.
This competition focuses on the technical aspects of cheese making beyond just flavor or what is necessarily a top-selling cheese for a company.
Packaging issues, moisture levels, and even cracks in a cheese plug pulled from a large block can lead to deductions that would go unnoticed by most consumers.
For example, flavored cheese curds need to have a balance between added flavor and cheese flavor, said Luis Jiménez-Maroto, assistant coordinator at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison. Consumers might not worry about this balance with some of the top-selling flavored curds.
However, when it came to the curd, squeaking was a consideration for judges Marianne Smukowski and Kerry Kaylegian, an associate research professor at Penn State University. That’s because in addition to their extensive cheese expertise, both are longtime Wisconsin residents and understand the appeal of curds.
Kaylegian calls curd the best appetizer in the world.
“To me, a big part of the appeal of a curd is the textural experience. The snackability,” Smukowski said.
To judge, they were looking for curds with a clean milk flavor, salt, and a “little sour note, that’s good.”
Of course, the day before the fresh curd was scored, they indulged in an order of fried cheese curds and said many of the restaurant’s other judges did the same.
20 FINALIST CHEESES
The 20 cheeses scored in the final round were chosen from the category winners.
Seven finalists came from Wisconsin cheesemakers:
- Castello Smoked Cracked Pepper Gouda (Gouda, smoked) from Arla Foods, Kaukauna.
- Cheddar (ages 1-2) from Land O Lakes, Kiel.
- BelGioioso CreamyGorg (Gorgonzola) from BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark.
- Odyssey Peppercorn Feta of Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe.
- Ocooch Reserve (hard sheep’s cheese, aged over 6 months) Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby.
- red rock (Cheeses with blue molding) from Roelli Cheese Co., Shullsburg.
- Roth Grand Cru Surchoix (ripened hard cheeses with washed rind/smear, aged more than 9 months) from Emmi Roth, Monroe.
Two other cheeses in the United States also made the final.
- Nettle Meadow Kunik (mixed soft and semi-soft milk cheeses) from Nettle Meadow, Warrensburg, NY
- Point Reyes TomaTruffle (semi-soft, flavored cheeses) from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Petaluma, California.
The other finalists came from European cheese makers.
- Appenzell Mild-Würzig of Käserei Niederbüren AG, Niederbüren, Switzerland.
- Beemster Royale (Gouda, mature) from Westbeemster, the Netherlands.
- Beemster Royale Grand Cru (hard cheeses) from Beemster, Westbeemster, The Netherlands.
- Johann Erzherzog (matured hard cheeses with washed rind/smear, matured, less than 9 months) from Obersteirische Molkerei eGen, Knittelfeld, Steiermark, Austria.
- Gourmino Le Gruyère AOP (Gruyère) from Gourmino AG, Langnau iE, Bern, Switzerland.
- Holland Master Cantenaar (Semi-soft cheeses) from Royal FrieslandCampina, Amersfoort, The Netherlands.
- Ripened Sheep Cheese Los Cameros (Surface-ripened (mold) sheep’s cheeses) from Lácteos Martínez SLU, Haro, La Rioja, Spain.
- Mont Vully Reserve (wine-ripened cheeses/washed-rind spirits/smears) from Käserei Schafer AG, Cressier FR, Fribourg, Switzerland.
- Sweet Roemer (Gouda, over 10 months old) from Van der Heiden Kaas BV, Bodegraven, Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands.
- Tete de Moine PDO (Washed rind/smear Ripened Semi-firm Semi-hard aged more than 4 months) from Fromages Spielhofer SA, St-Imier, Bern, Switzerland.
- Vermeer (low-fat soft and semi-soft cheeses) from Royal FrieslandCampina, Amersfoort, The Netherlands.
WISCONSIN CHEESEMAKERS CATEGORY WINNERS
- Asiago, aged: Sartori cheese, Plymouth, Sartori Classic Asiago.
- Asiago, fresh: BelGioioso cheese, Denmark, BelGioioso Asiago Fresco.
- Swiss baby style: Cottage cheese dairyMonroe.
- Brick and Munster: Decatur Dairy, Brodhead, Munster.
- Cheese-based spreads: Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton, Pimento Cold Spread Cheese.
- Blue Paste Cheeses: Roelli Cheese Factory, Shullsburg, Red Rock
- Cheese curds : Decatur Dairy, Brodhead, Münster curd.
- Cheese curds, flavored: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Elsworth, Hickory Bacon cheese curds.
- Cheddar aged 1 to 2 years: Land O’ Lakes, Kiel.
- Cheddar, traditional waxed, mild to medium: Renard Rosewood Dairy, Algoma, traditional red waxed cheddar daisy.
- Cold Pack Cheese, cheese-based food: Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton, Chunky Blue Cold Pack Cheese Food.
- Cottage cheese, flavored: Westby Coop Creamery, Westby, Organic Strawberry Cottage Cheese.
- Feta cheese : Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe, Odyssey Feta.
- Flavored Feta: Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe, Odyssey Peppercorn Feta.
- Gorgonzola: BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark, BelGioioso CreamyGorg.
- Gouda, flavored: Marieke Gouda, Thorp, Marieke Thorp Gouda.
- Smoked Gouda: Arla Foods, Kaukauna, Castle Gouda.
- Hard cheeses, flavored (open class): Deer Creek Cheese, Kiel, Deer Creek The Night Walker.
- Hard goat milk cheeses: Blakesville Creamery, Port Washington, Blakesville Creamery St. Germain.
- Hard, extra-mature sheep’s milk cheeses: Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, Ocooch Reserve.
- Mixed hard cheeses, older than 6 months: LaClare Creamery, Malone, LaClare Creamery Cave Aged Chandoka.
- Havarti: Emmi Roth, Monroe, Roth Creamy Havarti.
- Havarti, flavored: Arla Foods, Kaukauna, Dofino Havarti.
- Low-fat cheeses: Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe, Odyssey Lowfat Feta.
- Low-fat yogurt, cow’s milk: Yodelay yogurt, Madison, Yodelay Yogurt – Cherry Pie.
- Marble curd cheese: arena cheese, Arena, original Colby Jack deli recipe.
- Mozzarella: Agropur, Luxemburg.
- Fresh mozzarella: Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo.
- Parmesan cheese: Schumann cheese, Turtle Lake, Cello Parmesan.
- Pasteurized processed cheese: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, New London.
- Processed pasteurized cheese, flavored: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, New London.
- Slices of pasteurized processed cheese: Associated Milk Producers Inc., Carrying.
- Spread of pasteurized processed cheese: Land O Lakes, Spencer.
- Pepper flavored cheese, medium heat: Wisconsin Brunkow Cheese, Darlington, The Big Moo – Hoppin’ Jalapeno.
- Pepper flavored Monterey Jack, over high heat: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Comstock, Ellsworth Habanero Ghost Pepper Jack Cheese.
- Foods prepared with cheese: Wisconsin Brunkow Cheese, Darlington, The Big Moo – Oh So Original.
- Provolone: Agropur, Luxemburg.
- Aged Provolone: BelGioioso cheese, Denmark, BelGioioso Mandarini aged provolone.
- Provolone, smoked: Cedar Valley cheese, Belgium.
- Mixture of grated, flavored and unflavoured cheeses: Sartori Cheese, Plymouth, Sartori Tuscan Blend.
- Smoked hard cheeses: Meister Cheese Company, muscoda, smoked cheddar
- Ripened hard cheeses with washed rind/smear, extra-ripened: Emmi Roth, Monroe, Roth Grand Cru Surchoix.