Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cheese Champs

Everybody knows that Wisconsin is America's Dairyland.  What better place than Wisconsin to host this:

Every two years the Wisconsin Cheese Board hosts this competition here:

As you enter the atrium, there are tables set up in a horseshoe where judges are hard at work evaluating over 1700 entries.  There are 80 classes of cheese and butter that have to be tasted and rated for packaging, color, taste, texture, etc.  Not a bad job, eh?  This year there were 21 judging stations.  Judges are from across the country and most are from Wisconsin.  WE DO LOVE OUR CHEESE!

Each judging station had 2 judges ( the people with white hats ) and 2 runners ( orange hats ).  The runners fetched the cheese for the judges and sometimes even cleaned up the table and the equipment.

Some of the cheese comes in little round balls or flat squares.  Some come in huge squares or cubes up to 200 pounds!

As best as I could tell all the cheese is commercially produced, although I did not see any information to verify that or anything on the entry sheet to require that.

I sat down to watch at several stations.  First the packaging is examined.  At one station there were little balls of mozzarella in plastic.  The judges first comment was about the cute little pigtail shape of the plastic as it was sealed on the ends.

Next the judge looks at the cheese inside the plastic to see if there are any dents, discoloration or other defects.  Then they take a sample of the cheese.  If it is a hard cheese, they use the trier like in the photo below.  The judge pulls out the cheese and then breaks off a hunk where the wax is and plugs it back in the hole.

 For softer cheeses they use a big honkin' knife that looks like a machete.  A couple of tables had a large knife with  handles on both ends to rock it back and forth.  Then they cut the cheese in several slices and take a piece to sample from the center of the cheese.  For blue cheese, the table had a ginormous cheese wire slicer.  I loved that this blue came wrapped in blue foil.

Here's the slicer wire:

Once they have the cheese cut or a piece in their hand, the judges smell the cheese.  Then they taste it for saltiness, bitterness, and texture.

Once they have the taste evaluated, they spit the cheese into a bucket.  Yep, you heard right.  All that glorious cheese right in the trash.  Most of the judges were somewhat discreet and kept their bucket behind them so the spitting was not so obvious.  At one table a young man was being trained by an experienced judge, so they kept their bucket between them and it was quite a show!!!

After each quality of the cheese is rated, the judges enter their scores into an IPAD.  Each judge had his or her own.

 As I understand it, they start out with a perfect score of 100 and deduct points from there.  Each class assigns a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize.  The first prize winners in all categories, except processed cheese compete tonite for the Grand Prize.  I think the big winner is only awarded $500, but the marketing advantage is huge.  

There is a table set up for tasting.  There were 4  types of cheese available:  sharp cheddar, yellow cheddar, Havarti, and pepper Havarti.  I read on the contest website that these are all supposed to be winners from the last competition.  I was not too crazy about any of them.  They were all from Wisconsin.


 This judge's name was Charles Lindburg ( he had his name tag on upside down.)  I thought that was kind of funny.

 This table featured bandage wrapped cheeses.

 Chipotle Gouda (Does that sound weird to anybody but me?)  I read in the paper that there are so many spicy cheeses that they have to spread the among all the judges so they don't have their taste buds overwhelmed by the heat.

 Baked Brie - The runner brought out these two plates with covers.  Underneath was a heated cheese.  He also had the cheese in its original packing which was the cheese in shrink-wrap plastic and in a box.   I was drooling for a taste, although it was brownish and not too appetizing when they cut open the prepared cheese.

 I don't know the name of this cheese, but the runner told me it is made to put on the grill and it doesn't melt.  Hmmm!  I don't get it.

Our newspaper reported this morning that the newest cheese on the block this year is called Juustoleipa.  It is a Finnish cheese that is being produced in the UP.  It has to be heated and is very buttery.  

Hope you enjoyed seeing a little slice of Dairyland Heaven.


  1. There are two major cheese plants in my valley, so I found all of this quite interesting. : )

  2. Oh, now I'm really homesick!!! What a fun competition to witness. I wonder... is there a Wisconsin Bratwurst Board???