World Championship Cheese Contest

Judges sample cheese Wednesday to select the Sweet 16 entries out of 110 categories for tonight's final competition at the World Championship Cheese Contest at Monona Terrace. Four U.S. cheeses qualified for the final round, including two from Wisconsin.

Two cheeses from Wisconsin qualified Wednesday for the Sweet 16 finals at the World Championship Cheese Contest but the Europeans have once again dominated the final day of competition. 

A best in show world champion is scheduled to be named tonight at a 7 p.m. sold out, ticketed gala at Monona Terrace. A U.S. cheese has not won the title since 1988.

The contest began Monday with a record 2,955 cheese, butter and yogurt entries from 23 countries and 31 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Winners in the 110 categories squared off Wednesday afternoon to qualify for the final event. The U.S. placed four cheeses in the finals, Canada had one with the remainder from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Spain.

"The appearance of a wheel a lot of times kind of influences your first opinion but then it's got to be backed up by the flavor," said Robert Aschebrock, chief judge of the contest. Wisconsin "didn't lose, but because there's (2,955) entries, it makes it tougher."

Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville made the finals with his Extra Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a cheese that won the hard cheeses category with a score of 99.3. The cheese, according to the company's website, is only made between May and October.

"This grass-fed, raw milk produces flavors in the cheese that can't be replicated by 'ordinary' milk," the company touts. "We're very particular about using milk from only the best pasture conditions."

Hatch's Pleasant Ridge Reserve won Best of Show in the American Cheese Society's annual competition in 2001, 2005 and 2010 and won the U.S. Cheese Championships, held in opposite years of the world contest, in in 2003.

Also qualifying for the finals from Wisconsin was a Grand Cru Surchoix, a smear ripened hard cheese produced by a team of cheesemakers from Emmi Roth in Fitchburg. The cheese scored a 99.8 and finished ahead of Roth's Private Reserve that placed second and a Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Hatch.

The other U.S. qualifiers was a Winnimere cheese in the smear ripened soft cheese category from the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont and a sheep's milk cheese from Central Coast Creamery in California.

While Wisconsin placed only two cheeses in the finals, the state dominated the overall competition. State cheesemakers took top honors in 38 of the 110 categories and took the top three spots in 17 categories.

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