Saturday, July 30, 2016

Roelli Cheese Wins 2016 ACS Best in Show with Little Mountain

Photo by Uriah Carpenter
Every once in a great while, good things happen to good people. Such was the case tonight at the 2016 American Cheese Society awards ceremony, as Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli, one of the country's most humble, hardworking and beloved cheesemakers, took home Best in Show for the very first time. Ever. And he did it with a cheese he created to honor his family.

With tears in his eyes and emotion flowing through his voice, the first call after the pomp and circumstance ended onstage was to his father, Cheesemaker Dave Roelli, who first taught Chris how to make cheese as a young boy. Chris is the fourth generation in his family to make cheese at the family plant near Shullsburg, Wisconsin, and just two years ago, he and his cousin purchased the business from their fathers.

"Sit down," he told his dad over the phone. "I just won the whole ACS show. Yes. Best of Show with Little Mountain. It's everything we've ever worked for."

Everything he's ever worked for: indeed, Chris Roelli and his wife, Kristine, have worked long days and nights establishing and rebranding Roelli Cheese after they reopened the once-closed cheese plant ten years ago. Chris found early fame with his American Original, Dunbarton Blue, a natural rinded cheddar streaked with blue veins, and also with Red Rock, another cheddar blue made in blocks with a white mold rind and creamy texture.

Little Mountain is Chris' newest cheese. It pays homage to his family cheesemaking heritage in Switzerland. Created with the help of John Jaeggi at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Little Mountain is an Appenzeller style made in 15-pound wheels and washed with a proprietary blend of bacteria and brine. It's aged between 8 and 14 months. The winning wheel was aged nine months.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter
"This cheese is more special because it takes me back to my family's roots," Chris said. "It's also the cheese I make the least of." Only 1,200 pounds of Little Mountain currently exist, and Chris now faces the monumental task of trying to fill orders from hundreds of stores around the country, all of which will be clamoring for the Best in Show cheese.

In addition to winning Best in Show, Wisconsin also had a hand in the Third Place Best in Show winner, Jeffs' Select. The aged gouda is crafted by Jeff Wideman at Maple Leaf Cheese in Monroe, and then aged at the Caves of Faribault by Jeff Jirik in Minnesota. The two men shared the prize.

Rounding out the Best in Show honors was Buff Blue from Bleating Heart Cheese in California, and St. Malachi Reserve from The Farm at Doe Run in Pennsylvania. Both cheeses tied for second place. Tying for third place was Greensward, made by Jasper Hill in Vermont and aged by Murray's Cheese in New York.

Overall, Wisconsin dominated the competition, held this year in Des Moines, Iowa, winning 104 awards, more than any other state in the nation. Of those awards, 28 were first place ribbons, 32 were second places and 44 were thirds. Overall, California came in second with 55 awards, and Vermont third, with 36 awards.

All Wisconsin companies earning awards at tonight's competition for their cheeses were:
  • Arena Cheese, Arena: Colby, Smoked Gouda
  • Arthur Schuman Inc: Cello Thick and Smooth Mascarpone, Yellow Door Creamery Harissa Rubbed Fontal 
  • BelGioioso Cheese, Green Bay: BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella 16 oz. Log, BelGioioso Mascarpone, BelGioioso Burrata, BelGioioso Fontina
  • Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain: Sheep Milk Feta, Donatello
  • Cesar's Cheese, Random Lake: Cheddar Cheese Curds, Hand Stretched String Cheese, Cesar’s String Cheese, Oaxaca String Cheese
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo: Yellow Cheddar Cheese Curds, White Cheddar Cheese Curds, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Mozzarella-under 8oz, Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Curds, Marinated Fresh Mozzarella
  • Edelweiss Creamery, Monticello: Emmental, Brick
  • Emmi Roth USA, Monroe: Pavino, GranQueso Reserve, GranQueso, Roasted Garlic Raclette, Smoked Fontina, Grand Cru Surchoix
  • Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby: Driftless-cranberry cinnamon, Driftless- Maple, Meadow Melody Grande Reserve, Meadow Melody Reserve
  • Hook's Cheese Company, Mineral Point: Little Boy Blue, Barneveld Blue, Pepper Jack
  • Klondike Cheese, Monroe: Brick, Muenster, Odyssey Feta, Odyssey Reduced Fat Feta, Odyssey Tomato & Basil Feta, Odyssey Peppercorn Feta, Odyssey Mediterranean Feta, Odyssey Greek Yogurt French Onion Dip, Odyssey Blueberry Greek Yogurt, Odyssey Greek Yogurt
  • Kraft Heinz: Cracker Barrel – Sharp Cheddar, Cracker Barrel – Extra Sharp Cheddar
  • Lactalis American Group, Belmont: 33 Kg. Triple Cream Brie, 1 Kg. Triple Cream Brie, Feta Crumbles, Reduced Fat Feta, Brie – Herbs, Rondel√© Garlic & Herbs Gourmet Spreadable Cheese
  • Landmark Creamery, Albany: Pecora Nocciola, Petit Nuage – Summer Babe, Petit Nuage
  • Maple Leaf Cheesemakers, Monroe: Mild Gouda, Aged Gouda, Aged English Hollow, Jack the Reaper, Pepper Jack, Twin Grove Gouda, Smoked Gouda 
  • Marieke Gouda, Thorp: Marieke Gouda Honey Clover, Marieke Gouda Jalapeno, Marieke Gouda Truffle
  • Montchevre-Betin, Inc., Belmont: Fromage Blanc, La Chevriotte, Trivium, Mini Bucheron, Oh-La-La! Fresh Spreadable Goat Cheese, Bandaged Goat aged by Crown Finish Caves
  • Mt. Sterling Cheese Co-op: Smoked Jalapeno Jack, Sterling Reserve
  • Organic Valley, LaFarge: Organic Pasteurized Colby, Organic Salted Butter 
  • Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton: Horseradish Flavor Cold Pack Cheese Food, Hot Habanero Cold Pack Cheese Food
  • Roelli Cheese Company, Shullsburg: Little Mountain 
  • Saputo Specialty Cheese: Black Creek Colby, Stella Aged Asiago, Great Midwest Hatch Pepper Cheddar, Black Creek Pepper Jack, Black Creek Double Smoked Cheddar
  • Sartori Company, Plymouth: Sartori Classic MontAmor√©, Sartori Limited Edition Pastorale Blend, Sartori Classic Asiago, Sartori Reserve Chipotle BellaVitano
  • Saxon Cheese, Cleveland: Saxony Alpine Style – 30 Month, Snowfields Butterkase Style – 12 Month, Saxony Alpine Style, Asiago Fresca, Snowfields w/red chillies and mushrooms
  • The Artisan Cheese Exchange, Sheyboygan: Deer Creek The Stag, Deer Creek The Imperial Buck, Deer Creek The Moon Rabbit
  • V&V Supremo Foods: Queso Oaxaca, Queso Chihuahua with Jalapeno Peppers
  • Widmer's Cheese Cellars, Theresa: Traditional Washed Rind Brick Cold Pack, Washed Rind Brick Cheese, Traditional Colby
  • Zimmerman Cheese, South Wayne: Traditional Smoked Brick, Muenster Cheese
The 2016 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,843 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 260 companies from 37 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and Colombia. A total of 374 ribbons were awarded: 104 first place ribbons, 127 second place ribbons, and 143 third place ribbons.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter

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