Top Cheeses Wheel Through Competition

Posted: December 7, 2010 in Food, Multimedia
Tags: , , , , ,

*This story was a joint effort between Will Mueller and Benjie Klein that was originally published in the Badger Herald on 04/27/10

Slideshow breaking down the World Cheese Championships

Video story about Gary Grossen’s attempt to achieve cheese greatness

Thirty world class cheese judges from around the globe gathered in Madison to take part in crowning the best cheese in the world at the biennial World Cheese Championship Contest at the Monona Terrace.

According to John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the contest started in 1891, but did not become a worldwide contest until 1958.

“It’s grown from a competition just for our members, to a statewide and then a United States competition, and now a world competition,” said Umhoefer. “So it’s kind of an organic growth that it’s had for 120 years.”

Umhoefer, a former journalism student the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of WCCC for 17 years, said submissions for this year’s contest surpassed all previous marks with 2,318 cheeses and butters from 20 countries. Both international and local judges evaluated the cheeses and butters to declare a winner.

“To be a grader in Wisconsin, you have to have a license. So a lot of these folks are licensed cheese graders,” said Umhoefer. “But for this contest it’s actually…just a look at their resume, their judging experience.”

While some of the judges at WCCC were local, many, like David Lockwood from Neil’s Dairy Yard in London, traveled thousands of miles to judge cheese. Regardless of origin, judges evaluate cheeses by the same methods.

“We’re looking for what is wrong,” said Lockwood. “We assume that something is perfect to start with and we are actually looking for faults. It’s a way to evaluate the cheese and help the cheese maker improve.”

Competitors from all over the world submitted their cheeses to the contest, but one cheese maker practices his trade right here at UW.

Gary Grossen makes his cheese in Babcock Hall. Grossen was raised above a cheese factory and grew up to become partner there with his father.

“I took it over myself. My dad and I were in partnership and we were there for 51 years,” said Grossen. “In 2001, I sold out and stayed with the new people for three years to get the change over fine and then came to Babcock Hall.”

Grossen submitted his Gouda and his aged Gouda for the 2010 WCCC and faired quite well. He received fourth place for the Gouda and second place for the aged Gouda. The aged Gouda from this year’s contest was the same cheese he placed in first under the Edam, Gouda, category in the 2009 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. By saving batches of that cheese, Grossen was able to age the cheese for over a year and enter it into the aged Gouda category for the world competition.

The cheese that won the individual gold medals from the 80 possible categories went on to the championship round where all 30 judges determined an overall winner.

For the third straight year the overall winning cheese hailed from Switzerland. Cedric Vuille’s Gruyere, a cheese from Fromagerie de La Brovine in La Brovine, Switzerland, took home top honors. The Swiss also captured the first runner-up spot with a smear-ripened hard cheese.

The winning cheese, along with other finalists, was to be put up for auction at the International Cheese Technology Expo held April 20-22 at the Alliant Energy Center. While the winners get prestige for their creations, the competition is funded by their quality products. In 2008, the award winning cheeses were auctioned off for more than $65,000, with the winning cheese selling for $7,500.

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