Summing up this year’s Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association national
contest with my title statement, I feel it is a fair evaluation. As
someone who contributes to cheese from behind the scenes it was gratifying
to see that the cheese makers who have returned to the roots of
cheese-making, took top honors in the 2005 competition.
Cheesemaking, in the interests of efficiency, developed technologies
that lowered costs and minimized waste. As cheese was reduced to sustenance
level, the consideration of gastronomy had to accept secondary consideration.
In this 21st century, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and
the independently appointed judges have honored three exemplary cheeses
with the highest awards in the contest. Each of the cheeses reflects
a return to the craft that has defined the greatness of cheese to
which we pay homage, particularly when we present our current creations
to the marketplace.
The unique thing about these three cheeses is that they are the “real
McCoy,” so to speak. There is no doubt, even from the casual
observer’s point of view, that these cheeses are products whose
creators can rightfully be called “artisans.”
This contest is not about “Artisan” cheese, it is about cheesemaking
excellence; but this year, artisans stole the show. The cheeses
were recognized for their excellence in flavor and body with the acceptance
that their natural rinds were a valued part of the equation and not something
to be considered a liability or a basis for rejection.
Of the cheese makers it can be said, they owe a lot to the state they
came from. Randy Krahenbuhl and Sid Cook are Wisconsin natives. The
second place recipient, John Hoyt, is from Michigan and in reviewing
his company website it is clear he has brought an in-depth knowledge
of cheesemaking with him to Michigan.
Wisconsin has been able to retain enough of its cheese makers to dominate
the contest this year but will continue to be challenged by those
in their ranks who are departing to seek opportunities elsewhere.
The fact that Wisconsin cheese makers can be found plying their art in
cheese plants across the country says a lot for the institutions that
have supported this industry over the years.
Of the judges it can be said, they came from diverse backgrounds, academia,
distribution, consulting, regulatory, production, grading, and purchasing.
They came together and recognized the cheeses for what they were: cheeses
of which their creators can be proud!
The Wisconsin Cheese Makers national and international contests offer
cheese makers one of the ultimate venues to gain recognition among their peers. The
WCMA is to be commended for creating a great tradition in a uniquely Wisconsin
Questions About this Year’s Contest
When specifically asked the following questions about the contest, my
responses were as follows:
Q. How does the competition differ from the World competition?
A. Less than it has in the past, the cheese that have taken the top places
looked more like European cheese than ever before.
Q. Do I see differences in presentation?
A. Yes, rinded cheeses such as the aged cheeses were more prevalent along
with mixed milk cheese. The winners of this year’s competition
were very visual and exploit a marketing niche that rindless vacuum packaged
cheese never can.
Q. Cheese types?
A. Still not as diverse as a typical European selection but getting closer;
the increase in goat cheeses is notable as is the quality of these cheeses.
My assumption is that it is the quality of the milk that now allows the
cheese maker to enhance the natural attributes and showcase them in the
cheese, becoming very sophisticated.
Q. US altering to meet/match European counterparts?
A. Yes but with our own unique flair.
Neville McNaughton, president of Cheez Sorce, St. Louis, MO, has
many years of experience manufacturing dairy products in both New Zealand
and US. He has been a judge at several cheese competitions. Neville
will be writing a regular column in Cheese Reporter and will take any
questions regarding cheese manufacture. You can reach him at CheezSorce@sbcglobal.net. jumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn.