World Championship Cheese Contest

A judge takes a sample from a wheel of Extra-Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve by Upland Cheese in Dodgeville at last year's World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison. This year's contest features a record number of entries.

STATE JOURNAL ARCHIVES

When the world’s largest technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition is held next month in Madison, it will be the biggest yet.

Entries for the World Championship Cheese Contest are up 15 percent over the 2016 contest to 3,402 entries, while the number of categories has increased to 121 from 110, officials with the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association said.

Kirsten Strohmenger, events manager for the contest that is held every other year, said international entries are up 33 percent to 919 from 26 foreign countries. The remaining entries come from 32 U.S. states. The largest representation comes from Wisconsin followed by New York, Idaho, Vermont and California.

“We’re particularly excited to see the significant jump in entries from cheesemakers operating outside the United States,” Strohmenger said. “Both in the U.S. and around the world, our contest’s gold medal on the labels of award-winning cheese drives consumer purchases and boosts sales.”

In 2016, Fitchburg-based Emmi Roth USA took best of show with its Grand Cru Surchoix that was produced in Monroe. It marked the first time in almost 30 years since an American cheesemaker took top honors at the show. Dale Olson of Grantsburg’s Burnett Dairy Cooperative in northwestern Wisconsin won in 1988 for a string cheese.

This year’s contest is a three-day event at Monona Terrace with preliminary judging on March 6 and 7 and the top 16 finalists squaring off at an evening gala on March 8.

Entry to preliminary judging is free but the gala is a ticketed event that includes tastings and an opportunity to meet and mix with cheesemakers and others in the industry.

The judging team for the contest consists of 55 cheese graders, buyers and dairy science professors from 20 countries and 15 U.S. states.

But the number of entries and classes continues to grow. In 1980, the contest had just 212 entries. It grew to 1,033 entries by 2000 and had 2,318 entries and 78 categories in 2010. The 2012 contest had 2,503 entries in 83 categories, with 2,619 entries in 90 categories in 2014.

New categories this year include those for traditional waxed and natural rinded cheddar; paneer, a fresh farmer cheese common in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Asian countries, made by curdling heated milk with acidic foods such aske lemons or vinegar; an open class for hard cheeses with rinds; and several new goat and sheep’s milk cheese categories.

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Barry Adams covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.