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Judges Recognize High Art in Cheesemaking

A Look at the US Championship Cheese Contest

Volume 129, No. 40, Friday, April 8, 2005

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 way. 

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.netjumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn. org


Other Neville McNaughton Columns
Cutting the Curd
One Day Analysis - Beyond Being Legal
The Shape of Cheese
Adding the Extra Column
Pasta Filata Cheese
Very Hard Cheese
Hard Cheese with Eyes
Gouda, Edam And Other Washed Curd Cheese

Other Cheese Reporter Guest Columnists
Visit John Umhoefer
Visit Ed Zimmerman