The Wisconsin State Fair has been conducting a Blue Ribbon Cheese & Butter Auction ever since I can remember, but this year was the first time I was invited as a potential bidder with my Wisconsin Cheese Originals organization.
I'd never been to a cheese auction, and in good faith, packed my checkbook in my purse. I figured how hard would it really be to bid on and win a chunk of cheese?
Um, yeah, it turns out my pockets were not nearly deep enough for the high-paying crowd at the Wisconsin State Fair. A total of 17 different blue-ribbon cheeses put up for auction by the State Fair Dairy Promotion Board (it uses the money for scholarships and such) brought more than $28,000 - a new record.
Yes, that's right. 17 wheels of cheese = $28,000. You do the math. That's some SERIOUSLY expensive cheese.
The thing one realizes quickly at a cheese auction is it's really not the price per pound that counts, it's how many pounds you're bidding on. For example, four pounds of Sid Cook's blue-ribbon Casa Bolo Mellage went up for auction, compared to 40 pounds of Monterey Pepper Jack by Lynn Dairy.
Before I left, my husband informed me that my auction budget was $500 (me thinketh I may have purchased one too many designer bags lately), so I was thinking, hey, I can probably at least get four pounds of cheese, right?
Sid Cook's Casa Bolo Mellage cheese went for $230 a pound. Yes, that's $230 PER POUND. I stopped bidding at $125/per pound after my husband kicked me under the table. The next cheese I bid on was Limburger by Chalet Cheese. I figured I had a fighting chance to buy a stinky cheese, but no. It went for $150 a pound. Again, I stopped at $125, due to the aforementioned kicking.
The Grand Champion cheese, a Rosemary-Olive Oil Rubbed Asiago, made by Mike Matucheski at Sartori Foods, went for $127.50 per pound. Times 20 pounds, that's a rousing $2,550 for a wheel of cheese. And people complain to me that artisan cheese costs too much in the store. Yeesh.
Before the bidding started, my friend Norm and I were trading auction stories. I told him my father once brought home a load of wooden ladders from a farm sale that he bought by mistake after waving hello to a friend. He tried to pass them off as something we really needed, but we eventually got the real story out of him.
Norm said he had an uncle who viewed auctions as a social gathering, and who always bought something whether he needed it or not, thinking it was worth the price of admission for a good show.
In the end, Norm and I both went home cheese-less. Oh well, there's always next year. I'm thinking I just may send the Dairy Promotion Board a check anyways. It was a pretty good show.