This past weekend, my hometown hosted the first ever Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship. The event took place at the Iowa Country Fairgrounds in Mineral Point, WI, and was well attended by hundreds of cheese connoisseurs.
Both amateur and professional grilled cheese makers were invited to compete in the event. Separate “heats” were held in four different sandwich categories: Classic, Classic Plus One, Classic Plus Extras and Classic Dessert. All entries were required to use real Wisconsin cheese and were judged based on their presentation, taste and style. The panel of judges consisted of Pam Jahnke, the Wisconsin Farm Babe; Katie Wirkus, Wisconsin’s Alice in Dairyland; Dani Maxwell, anchor at 27 News Wake Up Wisconsin; and Head Judge John Johnson, Chef Instructor at Madison College.
First, Second and Third Place awards and prizes were given for each sandwich category for both amateurs and professionals. A “Best of Show” award was also given to the most outstanding grilled cheese sandwich of the competition.
Some of this year’s exhibitors included Regal Ware/American Kitchen, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Madison College, Metcalfe’s Market, Sector67, Melthouse Bistro, Driftless Market, Boar’s Head, Green County Cheese Days, Mineral Point/Dodgeville Chambers of Commerce, Iowa County Humane Society, Iowa County Economic Development Corporation/Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen and the Hodan Center.
The event offered free admission to the general public, as well as live music by Ben Biser and Whiskey River, beer and wine, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, and a whole lot of fun!
Celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month by cooking up your own special sandwich today!
This past week, Madison proudly hosted the 2012 World Championship Cheese Contest. The event was held at the Monona Terrace and was an exclusive opportunity opened to the public. At the contest, attendees had the opportunity to taste 20 of the world’s best cheeses, meet 40 international judges from six continents and witness the final round of judging to determine the 2012 World Champion Cheese.
Wisconsin was well represented at the event. Cheesemakers attending and sampling their finest cheeses included: BelGioioso Cheese, Carr Valley Cheese, Holland’s Cheese, LaClare Farm, Montchevre, and Sartori. All of these Wisconsin cheesemakers were either past U.S. Champions or won at least two gold medals in the last World Championship Cheese Contest.
Many international cheesemakers were also in attendance. Nations such as Argentina, Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom brought along their best products in hopes of taking home the winning title.
The three-day contest began Monday, with judges grading over 2,500 entries in 82 cheese and butter classes. Products were judged on flavor, texture, body and color. The winner in each class advanced to the semifinals, where the top 16 were chosen for Wednesday night’s finals.
Wisconsin cheese companies took top honors in 34 different classes, with four making it to the Sweet 16 round. They included Decatur Dairy, Brodhead, who topped both the Havarti class and Pepper Flavored Cheeses; Lactalis American Group, Belmont, Brie class; and Holland’s Family Cheese Team, Thorp, Smoked Soft & Semi-soft Cheeses.
However, in the end the top three winners of the World Championship Cheese Contest came from overseas. This year’s top winner was submitted by the FrieslandCampina cheese company from the Netherlands, which made a mild Gouda cheese. Adrian Mayer of Switzerland was the first runner-up with an entry in the Smear Ripened Semi-soft Cheeses category. And third place went to Karl Germann from Switzerland, who brought a product called Appenzeller Kaese.
Companies representing the Dairy State also took second place in 26 different categories and third place in 32 areas of the competition, continuously proving why Wisconsin is leading both the nation and world in quality and quantity of cheese production.
There is more than just one reason Wisconsin residents are often referred to as “Cheeseheads”. It could be due to the fact that cheese has been made and commercially sold in Wisconsin for more than 160 years, but in my opinion, it goes far beyond that.
In 1876, the first Wisconsin cheese plant was opened near Sheboygan. Since then, Wisconsin has come a long way, and is currently home to 129 cheese plants. Even more impressive, Wisconsin’s world-renowned cheesemakers produce over 600 varieties, types and styles of cheese, far more than any other state. I don’t think I’ve even come close to trying a quarter of them!
As the nation’s leader in cheese production in terms of both quantity and quality, 90% of Wisconsin’s milk is made into cheese. In addition, Wisconsin cheesemakers produce one out of every four pounds of cheese that is sold in the U.S.
It takes about 10 lbs. of milk just to make 1 lb. of cheese! Wisconsin cheesemakers take this seriously with producing over 2.6 billion pounds of cheese every year. If Wisconsin were a country, it would rank 4th in the world in terms of total cheese production, behind the U.S., Germany and France, and just ahead of Italy.
Continuing the bragging rights, Wisconsin cheese wins more awards than any other state or county in national and international cheese competitions. With this being said, Wisconsin cheesemakers have won 12 out of 16 “U.S. Champion” awards since the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest began in 1981.
In 2009, I served as the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board Intern. Throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to learn all about the Wisconsin dairy industry, especially cheese! Below is a picture of me with a wheel of my favorite Wisconsin cheese.