Sunday, April 24, 2016

For the Love of Grilled Cheese

Brooklyn Dairy Queen Kajal Russell, one of 13 Green
County Dairy Queens, is one of the most awesome
young women you'll ever meet. Plus, she likes cheese.
You go, girl!
What makes thousands of people gather in a park pavilion on a chilly April day in Wisconsin? Cheese, of course. And in this case, hot cheese. Grilled cheese, to be exact. Every year, the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship comes to Dodgeville with the noble mission of determining who makes the best grilled cheese in America.

Contestants this year came from all over the country, including one guy from California who wore a Wisconsin flag as a superhero cape and brought a van of groupies and a bin of trophies from previous grilled cheese contest wins. He lined up his hardware in front of his frying pan to intimidate the competition, and indeed did win over more groupies amid cheers of "rattlesnake sausage" (yeah, I don't know what that means, either), but it was one of our own who took Best in Show for the second year in row. So, suck it, Mr. California (and I mean that in the nicest Midwestern way possible).

Best in Show went to Beth Crave, representing Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Beth used a variety of cheeses from different Wisconsin companies in her innovative and tasty grilled cheeses. She entered all four different categories: classic, classic plus one, classic plus extras and dessert. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the professional competition this year, and I can tell you her sandwiches were the only ones that routinely earned perfect or near-perfect scores. They were also the only sandwiches that I wrapped up in a napkin to eat the rest later. It's official: this gal knows her grilled cheese.

In fact, my favorite grilled cheese of the whole day (and it was a six-hour day of judging) was Beth's "Sunrise Surprise," featuring Madison Sourdough bread layered with a blend of Saxon Creamery Snowfields and Emmi Roth Butterkase, piled high with smoked turkey, candied bacon, silvered avocado and farm fresh hard boiled eggs. It was grilled to perfection using Nordic Creamery Cultured Butter with Sea Salt. Oh yeah, baby.

Here's a picture of the sandwich (my apologies for the bite out of it - this is what judging looks like):



And here's a picture of the whole sandwich. Each sandwich was judged on presentation, taste and style, with a perfect score = 40. Guess how many points I gave this sandwich? You guessed it: 40.


Every year, event coordinator Matt Staver and his amazing team of volunteers improve the event to draw a bigger crowd of both contestants and attendees. This year, there had to be at least 1,000 people in the crowd, and every heat for the amateur categories was close to full. The event was founded five years ago by the late Lorin Toepper, a culinary instructor at Madison College and president of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp. Today, many of the volunteer judges for the professional division come from Madison College's culinary arts program.

One of the best moments of the day was when a sweet lady named Shirley Ritter won the amateur Classic Plus Extras category. Emcee extraordinaire Kyle Cherek (of Wisconsin Foodie fame) had been paging Shirley to no avail. Suddenly, Shirley appeared from the crowd, and when Kyle handed her the first place trophy, she nearly had a stroke and burst into tears. Because that's what winning a grilled cheese contest can do, folks: move you to tears.

Shirley Ritter accepts the first place trophy from Emcee Kyle Cherek and Molly
Hendrickson, Iowa County Fairest of the Fair.

Keeping the event on a steady beat were the fabulous musicians from Point Five, a Mineral Point band featuring Cheesemaker Andy Hatch on mandolin. Their Americana music was a perfect fit for an event celebrating an iconic American food.

Point Five band from Mineral Point. And yes, that's Cheesemaker Andy Hatch
from Uplands Cheese smiling at me while playing the mandolin.

For all of her efforts on Saturday, Best in Show winner Beth Crave won a super cool hand-made wooden chest that was actually a beer cooler with built in speakers. Fellow judge and Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli told me he thought it would look great in his garage, but I have a feeling Beth is keeping it.


Here's a full list of winners from the 2016 Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship. Congratulations to all!

Amateur Classic (any type of bread,  real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: William Koepcke, Verona, WI
Third Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA

Amateur Classic Plus One (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI
Second Place: Roberta Jake, Elgin, IL
Third Place: Robert Pappas, WI

Amateur Classic Plus Extras (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus unlimited additional ingredients.  However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Shirley Ritter, Highland, WI
Second Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA
Third Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI

Amateur Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet - as opposed to savory - flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Cara Wallner, Menomonee Falls, WI
Second Place: Kimmy Cleary & Morgan Weirich, Fennimore, WI
Third Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI

Youth Chefs (A special heat for competitors aged 12-17, all prepared a sandwich in the category of their choosing and were accompanied by an adult during the competition)

First Place: Olvera Rocio
Second Place: Joey Curtis
Third Place: Jalene Pierick

Professional Classic (any type of bread, real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI
Second Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Third Place: Anna Thomas Bates, Landmark, Creamery, Albany WI

Professional Classic Plus One (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Thomas Heller, Monks Bar and Grill, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Third Place: Amy Pohle, The Lunch Bus, Platteville, WI

Professional Classic Plus Extras (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus unlimited additional ingredients. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Third Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI

Professional Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet - as opposed to savory - flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI
Third Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI

Congratulations to all!!


1 comment:

King of Cheese said...

To begin with I'm from Wisconsin I just choose to live in California so I can educate the people out here that Wisconsin Cheese is the only cheese one should use. I am "one of your own" my grandparents were born and raised in Dodgeville and the family dairy farm still runs today in Highland. It was a great time to have my whole family come out to the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship, I even learned that I was related to the County Sheriff. So next year we will be back in Force.