The biannual U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, which took place in Wisconsin last week, is a highly technical competition that highlights its home state’s usual home-field advantage on the cheese front.
When the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association puts on the biannual U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, it goes big. Lambeau big.
The association last week hosted more than 2,300 types of cheeses at this year’s contest, the judging for which took place at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, a spot better known for hosting the Green Bay Packers. According to the Associated Press, it was the largest-ever competitive field for the event, which included 101 different categories of cheese—hard, soft, flavored, string cheese, and even a few kinds built for melting.
While the competition attracts cheeses from all over the country—including New York, Vermont, California, and Idaho—the home-field advantage is strong for this one. So it wasn’t a surprise when a Wisconsin company took the big prize at this year’s competition.
“So this is what it feels like, cool,” exclaimed Mike Matucheski, whose Sartori Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano edged past two other Wisconsin cheesemakers on the way to victory last week, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Winning this contest is a big deal—and one that can redefine a cheesemaker’s career and business. In a Press-Gazette story from earlier this month, Marieke Penterman, a cheesemaker born and raised in the Netherlands who now runs a Gouda-making powerhouse in Thorp, Wisconsin, recalled the impact of winning the award in 2013.
“Within 20 to 30 minutes of the online announcement of the award, the first online orders came in,” Penterman told the newspaper. “The next days the phones were just ringing. On a personal note, my immigration lawyer said now would be a good time to apply for a green card on an extraordinary ability route.”
(Penterman is a familiar face in the winner’s circle: She won second runner-up this year.)
Katie Furhmann’s 2011 win—at age 25, she was the youngest-ever winner and the second woman to win the competition—helped put her family’s goat dairy farm, LaClare Farms, on the map.
“It helped us launch our business,” noted Furhmann’s father, Larry Hedrich, in comments to the newspaper. “The industry was in its infancy (when LaClare Farms won in 2011) and people weren’t recognizing goat as a highly valuable product.”
Of course, the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest isn’t the only game in town: The American Cheese Society’s annual contest, being held in Denver in July, offers a different take on cheese judging—one that’s less technical and more artisanal. And every other year, the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest swaps off with the World Championship Cheese Contest—where the competition is even tougher.