Thursday, March 19, 2009

And the U.S Champion Cheese is ...

This just in ... the 2009 United States Championship Cheese is SarVecchio, a Parmesan made in Antigo, Wisconsin by cheesemaker John Griffiths at Sartori Foods.

The champion was named at 12:30 p.m. today CST by 24 judges at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, held at the Lambeau Field Atrium in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

First runner-up went to Classico, a hard goat's milk cheese from Tumalo Farms in Oregon, while a Medium Cheddar from McCadam Cheese in Chateaugay, New York was named as second runner up.

The top three cheeses were selected from the blue ribbon winners in 64 categories. A total of 1,360 cheeses competed.

Overall, Wisconsin fared very well in the 2009 competition. According to my unofficial results (which consist of me viewing by hand each of the class results and tallying the awards on a piece of paper), Wisconsin earned 41 first places, 40 second places and 35 third places.

Wisconsin also swept 21 categories, with cheesemakers earning the top three places in each. Some of those categories are expected, such as Colby or Brick (both varieties originated here), as well as Mild Cheddar (nearly every commercial plant makes some variety of mild cheddar), but for the first time, Wisconsin also swept other categories, such as:
  • Quesos Para Fundir 
  • Semi-Soft Goat's Milk Cheese
  • Soft and Semi-Soft Sheep's Milk Cheese
  • Flavored & Soft & Semi-Soft Sheep's Milk Cheese
  • Hard Mixed Milk Cheeses
While the usually much-decorated cheesemakers such as Sid Cook of Carr Valley, Myron Olson of Chalet Cheese, the Buholzers of Klondike Cheese and others took home several awards, many of the state's newcomers and new Wisconsin Original Cheeses introduced during the past year did really well. Let's hear it for some of my favorites:

  • English Hollow Cheddar, Maple Leaf Cheese Co-op, Monroe -- won second place out of 33 entries in cheddars aged 1-2 years. This new cheese crafted by Master Cheesemaker Jeff Wideman edged out perennial favorite Cabot Creamery in Vermont.

  • Quesadilla, Cesar Luis, Shullsburg -- this novice cheesemaker placed 4th out of 14 entries in his very first cheese contest. Whoo-hoo!

  • Lil Wil's Big Cheese, Willi Lehner, Blue Mounds -- took first out of 25 entries in the smear ripened cheese category. This cheese costs upwards of $40 a pound. My daughter has been known to eat an entire wedge on the way home from the cheese shop. Because yes, it is that good.

  • Marieke Cumin Gouda, Marieke Penterman, Thorp -- won second place out of 46 entries in flavored semi-soft cheeses.

  • Moody Blue, Roth Kase USA, Monroe -- this brand new cheese took second in the smoked cheese category. It just entered the market and you can find it at Whole Foods.

  • LaClare Farm Evalon, Saxon Homestead Creamery, Cleveland, Wis. -- took second in the hard goat's milk cheddar category. This is a brand new cheese being made with milk from the farm of Larry & Clara Hedrich. 

  • Driftless Cheese, Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby -- cheesemaker Brenda Jensen, one of my perennial favorites, took home several awards, including two first places for her Driftless and Driftless Honey/Lavender in the soft and semi-soft sheep's milk cheese categories.

  • Smoked Capriko & Capriko Reserve, Nordic Creamery, Westby -- cheesemaker Al Bekkum took first and second in the hard mixed milk cheese category. He also took first with his Sarah Select With Peppers (I did not know this cheese even existed) in the flavored soft & semi-soft mixed milk category. It is my new mission to hunt down this cheese.

  • Unsalted Butter, Grassland Dairy, Greenwood -- buttermakers at this renowned Wisconsin butter plant swept this category, taking first, second and third with their unsalted butters.
The champion cheeses will be auctioned off at a special ceremony on April 22 in LaCrosse. In the meantime, Brennan's Markets in Wisconsin purchases A LOT of the winning cheeses and features them in their stores in Brookfield, Monroe, Madison and New Glarus. 

Congratulations to all the winners!

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