Wisconsin cheesemakers have qualified five cheeses for tonight's finals at the World Championship Cheese Contest including two entries from Plymouth-based Sartori Company.
English Hollow Cheddar from Maple Leaf Cheese in Monroe, a cave-aged Chandoka of cow's and goat milk from LaClare Family Creamery in Malone in Fond du Lac County and a mild Gouda from Saxon Cheese in the Manitowoc County community of Cleveland also were selected for the top 20 finals scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Monona Terrace.
Sartori, based in Plymouth, and which won the U.S. Cheese Championship's best of show with a black pepper BellaVitano in 2017, qualified for tonight's finals a limited edition Pastorale Blend made by Mike Matucheski and Erin Radtke and a Reserve Espresso BellaVitano also made by Matucheski. Both Sartroi cheeses in the finals were made in Antigo.
The finalists were selected Thursday morning from the top finishers in the 110 cheese categories. The contest also has 11 categories of yogurt, butter and other dairy products.
Other U.S. cheeses making the finals are a Burrata, similar to a mozzarella, from Caputo Cheese in Melrose Park, Illinois; a goat's milk cheese from Vermont Creamery in Websterville, Vermont; a sheep's milk cheese from Savencia Cheese USA in New Holland, Pennsylvania, and a buffalo milk cheese made in Italy but aged in Crown Finish Caves in Brooklyn, New York.
Switzerland and the Netherlands each qualified four cheeses for the finals with Austria getting two cheeses and Canada one cheese in the top 20.
The contest, hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association is the largest technical cheese contest in the world and this year drew a record 3,402 entries to 121 categories, up 15 percent over the 2016 contest. Held every other year opposite the U.S Cheese Championship in Green Bay, the contest featured 919 entries from 26 foreign countries and 32 U.S. states.
In 2016, Fitchburg-based Emmi Roth USA took best of show with its Grand Cru Surchoix that was produced in Monroe but this year the cheese finished in fourth place in the washed rind/smear-ripened hard cheese category with a 99.35 score and did not qualify for tonight's finals. Wisconsin cheesemakers, however, grabbed first place in 46 of the 121 categories, had 46 second-place finishes and 37 third places. Those numbers include a sweep of the top three spots in 18 categories.
Only two U.S. cheeses have won best of show since 1988 when Dale Olson of Grantsburg's Burnett Dairy Cooperative in northwestern Wisconsin won for a string cheese.