World Championship Cheese Contest

Anja Polonen, left, of Finland, and David Satterness of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, judge mild Gouda at the World Championship Cheese Contest at Monona Terrace. The event concludes Wednesday night when a best of show is named out of the 2,955 entries.

It may seem hard to believe, but Wisconsin-made Colby, Muenster, Gouda and many other cheeses are getting better.

State cheesemakers once again dominated at the biennial World Championship Cheese Contest this week, racking up more awards when compared to the 2014 contest and positioning themselves for a potential historic finish.

The winners in each of the 110 categories will be judged again Wednesday afternoon to determine a top 16 that will compete at a Wednesday night gala for best in show. Cheesemakers from Switzerland have won four of the past five world championships. An American cheesemaker hasn’t taken top honors at the contest since 1988, when Dale Olson of Grantsburg’s Burnett Dairy Cooperative in northwestern Wisconsin won for a string cheese.

“It has to be nearly perfect in this contest because you have 50 to 60 cheeses in a class and we’ll be scoring 99 out of 100,” said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the Madison-based organization that presents the event. “Maybe the winner might be a 99.9. It can have virtually no defects. And that’s what we’re looking for in this contest.”

In 2014, four Wisconsin cheesemakers made the Sweet 16 finals but none finished in the top three at the final event. They were Brenda Jensen from Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby in the hard mixed milk cheeses; Marieke Penterman, with an aged Gouda from Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp; Katie Hedrich-Fuhrmann at LaClare Farms in Malone, with a hard goat cheese; and Steve Bierhals of BelGioioso Cheese in Green Bay.

Both Jensen and Penterman could return to the finals.

Jensen won the flavored soft and semi-soft sheep’s milk category and also had cheeses that placed third, fourth and fifth in the category. Penterman’s flavored Gouda took the top three spots in the category. Wednesday night’s gala at Monona Terrace is sold out with more than 500 people expected to attend.

But the results from Wisconsin cheesemakers this year topped those of the past two World Championship events.

In 2012, Wisconsin cheesemakers won 30 of the contest’s 82 categories, had the top three finishers in nine of the categories and had four in the Sweet 16 finals. In 2014, when there were 2,619 entries from 22 countries, state cheesemakers took first-place honors in 34 of the 90 categories, and swept the top three spots in 10 categories.

This year, with 2,955 cheese, butter and yogurt entries, Wisconsin cheesemakers took top honors in 38 of the 110 categories and took the top three spots in 17 categories.

In brick muenster, Wisconsin cheesemakers took the top 18 spots with a cheese from Chad Duhai of Zimmerman Cheese in South Wayne named best of class with a score of 99.4. Arena Cheese took the top three spots in the Colby category, while cheesemakers from Agropur in Weyauwega swept the top three spots in both feta and flavored feta.

Arla Foods in Kaukauna took the top three spots in havarti with their nine-pound loafs, while string cheese from Cesar’s Cheese in Random lake took the top three spots in the category.

Other notable finishes include a first place for Alicia Rogers from Montchevre-Betin in Belmont for a sun-dried tomato and basil in the flavored soft goat’s milk cheese. Cheesemakers from Montchevre-Betin also took four of the top five spots in flavored goats milk cheese with sweet condiments. Dennis Cardy won the class with a Rondin honey entry, while Percy Mendoza placed second in the class with a cranberry cinnamon goat’s cheese.

Pine River Dairy in Manitowoc took a first place in the flavored butter category with a cinnamon and honey butter, while in cow’s milk yogurt, a new category this year, Ron Paris of Sugar River Dairy in Albany placed first.

For a complete listing of results, go to: www.worldchampioncheese.org.

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