The results are in! Wisconsin is the winner of 21 of the 79 gold medals at the World Championship Cheese Contest. The U.S.A. over-all earned 51 gold medals. But our dairy state won't rest on its laurels, in 2012 Wisconsin cheese-makers will compete again to win the grand prize for best cheese in the world. This year's grand prize went to Kirchberg, Switzerland for its gruyere cheese created by cheese-maker Cedric Gragniere for Emmi Kase AG. The Swiss gruyere beat out 2,318 other cheeses submitted by 20 different countries.
Thirty judges from around the world gathered at Madison, Wisconsin's Monona Terrace Convention Center this week to judge the best cheeses the world has to offer. The judges paired up according to specialty, and over the course of two days, each pair judged approximately 40 cheeses to determine gold-medal winners for each cheese class. You can find the results for each specific class at the official website of the World Championship Cheese Contest. Once the winners for each class were determined, then all of the judges tasted the winners to determine the single best cheese of the world. This may sound like fun, but with such high stakes, the pressure is intense. The judges scored each cheese according to a multitude of criteria such as flavor, texture, finish, and after-taste. Their taste buds separated and evaluated each component flavor complexly-mixed within every cheese. They scrutinized for flaws. The concentration required to judge this world event is extreme. And yes, some judges admitted afterward that they'd had enough cheese for three days. Keep reading for more results and photos of this grand event.
Two of my most favorite Wisconsin cheese-makers were there. Marieke Penterman of Holland Farm won the gold medal - best of class - for her flavored Gouda called Burning Melange. My personal favorite is her smoked gouda! If I'd been a judge I would have picked that one, but I guess that's why I'm no cheese judge. She's now sold out of Burning Melange but will be making more soon!
Another winner was master cheese-maker Al O'Brien of Mt. Sterling Cheese Co-op. Al took a silver medal for his cave-aged raw goat milk cheddar. That is great cheese. I've been enjoying Al's goat milk cheeses for a couple of years now and I'm a convert to goat milk cheeses. They are awesome! Makes me want to raise goats. Al says it's not too hard to find a cave to age the cheese in. If your landscape doesn't cooperate, you can always dig into the ground and, with a bit of concrete, make your own cave. Now that's the Badger spirit!
This World Championship Cheese Contest is more than a battle of cheeses. There's a business side in the back of it. After the spectators leave, the cheese-makers gather together to discuss their craft. Masters from different countries exchange information about methods and technologies. International collaborations develop for the purpose of creating new cheeses and joint business ventures. These conversations are the real draw for these internationally-respected cheese-makers to Madison's contest. This exchange of expertise and elite camaraderie will bring these renowned cheese-masters back to Madison again in 2012. The tasting and judging will resume. And maybe Wisconsin will be the next grand winner!
For more about the World Championship Cheese Contest and to watch a Wisconsinite yodel, read Jeanne Carpenter's blog The Cheese Underground.
And one last note, if you've never tasted an award-winning cheese, you have not yet lived a full life. It's comparable to never having seen a Monet painting or heard a Bach concerto. Get thee to a gourmet cheese store and taste the good life!