Editor's note: The story has been updated to correct the name of cheesemaker Emmi Roth.
MADISON – If you wanted to make a charcuterie board with the world's best cheeses (technically speaking), seven would come from Wisconsin cheesemakers.
If you want the best cheese according to the judges at the World Championship Cheese Contest, you're looking for the Gourmino Le Gruyère from Mountain Dairy Fritzenhaus in Bern, Switzerland. It's the third time the cheese has taken the top honor at the contest having won in 2020 and 2008.
Still, it was a good year for Wisconsin cheesemakers with seven of the 20 finalists and winning 45 best-of-class categories. On top of that, cheese curds debuted in this year's contest, and Wisconsin swept both the regular and flavored categories.
Another past champion in the finals was Roth Grand Cru Surchoix from Emmi Roth — the last American cheesemaker to win the World Championship Cheese Contest.
Tim Omer, Emmi Roth president and managing director, said the cheeses that typically win are aged. Their winning Grand Cru ages for 10 months.
"I love string cheese, I love cheese curds," Omer said, "But when you have a year to mature for character and depth and nuance, and you let your cultures work and the bacteria that's in the milk work, you have a much bigger advantage because the complexity is way deeper."
While fresh cheeses (those that aren't aged) like curds and string didn't make the finals, Odyssey Peppercorn Feta from Klondike Cheese Co. in Monroe was being scored against a multitude of mature cheeses.
Other mature cheeses from Wisconsin makers included Ocooch Reserve (a hard sheep’s milk cheese aged over 6 months) from Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby and Red Rock (a bloomy rinded cheddar with a slight blue vein aged at least 60 days) from Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg.
Hosted biennially by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1957, the World Championship Cheese Contest drew 2,978 entries in 144 classes by cheesemakers from 29 countries, including the United States with entries from 33 states.
Fifty-three international experts from 16 countries and 13 states judged this year's entries at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison.
Franco Sessa of Whitestone Cheese in New Zealand said being selected to be a judge was like being nominated for an Oscar. He's worked in the New Zealand specialty cheese industry for 21 years and has been a judge in other big cheese contests, but this was his first time judging at the World Championship Cheese Contest.
He said all of the finalists were nearly perfect and you really needed to look for a reason to deduct points from any of them.
Cheese graders, cheese buyers, dairy science professors and researchers with more than 700 combined years in the the dairy processing industry scored the cheeses in three rounds to determine the best of class.
This contest focuses on technical aspects of cheesemaking beyond just the flavor or what necessarily is a best-selling cheese for a company.
Problems with packaging, moisture levels and even cracks in a plug of cheese pulled from a large block may lead to deductions that would go unnoticed by most consumers.
For example, the flavored cheese curds need to have a balance between the added flavor and cheese flavor, said Luis Jiménez-Maroto, an assistant coordinator with the Center for Dairy Research in Madison. Consumers might not care about that balance with some of the best selling flavored curds.
Though when it came to curds, the squeak was a consideration for judges Marianne Smukowski, a dairy industry specialist for 35 years, and Kerry Kaylegian, an associate research professor at Penn State University whose expertise includes dairy product quality. That's because in addition to their extensive cheese expertise, both have been longtime Wisconsin residents and understand the appeal of the curd.
Kaylegian calls curds the world's greatest finger food.
"For me a lot of the attraction of a curd is the textural experience. The snackability," said Smukowski.
For judging purposes they were looking for curds with a clean milky flavor, salt and a "little acid note is good."
Of course the night before scoring fresh curds, they indulged in an order of fried cheese curds and said many other judges at the restaurant were doing the same.
20 CHEESE FINALISTS
The 20 cheeses scored in the final round were chosen from the category winners.
Seven finalists came from Wisconsin cheesemakers:
Castello Smoked Cracked Pepper Gouda (Gouda, smoked) from Arla Foods, Kaukauna.
Cheddar (aged 1 to 2 years) from Land O Lakes, Kiel.
BelGioioso CreamyGorg (Gorgonzola) from BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark.
Odyssey Peppercorn Feta from Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe.
Ocooch Reserve (hard sheep’s milk cheeses, aged over 6 months) Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby.
Red Rock (Cheeses with Blue Molding) from Roelli Cheese Co., Shullsburg.
Roth Grand Cru Surchoix (Washed Rind/Smear Ripened Hard Cheeses, aged over 9 months) from Emmi Roth, Monroe.
Two other cheeses in the United States also made the finals.
Nettle Meadow Kunik (Soft & Semi-soft Mixed Milk Cheeses) from Nettle Meadow, Warrensburg, N.Y.
Point Reyes TomaTruffle (Semi-soft Cheeses, Flavored) from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Petaluma, Calif.
The remaining finalists came from European cheesemakers.
Appenzeller Mild-Würzig from Käserei Niederbüren AG, Niederbüren, Switzerland.
Beemster Royaal (Gouda, mature) from Westbeemster, Netherlands.
Beemster Royaal Grand Cru (Hard Cheeses) from Beemster, Westbeemster, Netherlands.
Erzherzog Johann (Washed Rind/Smear Ripened Hard Cheeses, Mature, less than 9 months) from Obersteirische Molkerei eGen, Knittelfeld, Steiermark, Austria.
Gourmino Le Gruyère AOP (Gruyere) from Gourmino AG, Langnau i.E., Bern, Switzerland.
Holland Master Cantenaar (Semi-soft Cheeses) from Royal FrieslandCampina, Amersfoort, Netherlands.
Los Cameros Cured Sheep Cheese (Surface (Mold) Ripened Sheep’s Milk Cheeses) from Lácteos Martínez S.L.U., Haro, La Rioja, Spain.
Mont Vully Réserve (Wine/Spirits Washed Rind/Smear Ripened Cheeses) from Käserei Schafer AG, Cressier FR, Fribourg, Switzerland.
Roemer Sweet (Gouda, aged over 10 months) from Van der Heiden Kaas B.V., Bodegraven, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands.
Tête de Moine AOP (Washed Rind/Smear Ripened Semi-soft Semi-hard aged over 4 months) from Fromages Spielhofer SA, St-Imier, Bern, Switzerland.
Vermeer (reduced fat soft and semi-soft cheeses) from Royal FrieslandCampina, Amersfoort, Netherlands.
WISCONSIN CHEESEMAKERS CATEGORY WINNERS
Asiago, aged: Sartori Cheese, Plymouth, Sartori Classic Asiago.
Asiago, fresh: BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark, BelGioioso Asiago Fresco.
Baby Swiss Style: Chalet Cheese Co-op, Monroe.
Brick and Muenster: Decatur Dairy, Brodhead, Muenster.
Cheese Based Spreads: Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton, Pimento Cold Pack Cheese Spread.
Cheeses with Blue Molding: Roelli Cheese Co., Shullsburg, Red Rock
Cheddar, aged 1 to 2 years: Land O' Lakes, Kiel.
Cheddar, traditional waxed, mild to medium: Renard's Rosewood Dairy, Algoma, traditional red wax cheddar daisy.
Cold Pack Cheese, cheese food: Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton, Chunky Bleu Cold Pack Cheese Food.
Cottage Cheese, flavored: Westby Coop Creamery, Westby, Organic Strawberry Cottage Cheese.
Feta: Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe, Odyssey Feta.
Feta, flavored: Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe, Odyssey Peppercorn Feta.
Gorgonzola: BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark, BelGioioso CreamyGorg.
Gouda, flavored: Marieke Gouda, Thorp, Marieke Thorp Gouda.
Gouda, smoked: Arla Foods, Kaukauna, Castello Gouda.
Hard Goat's Milk Cheeses: Blakesville Creamery, Port Washington, Blakesville Creamery St. Germain.
Hard Sheep's Milk Cheeses, extra aged: Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, Ocooch Reserve.
Hard Mixed Milks Cheeses, over 6 months: LaClare Creamery, Malone, LaClare Creamery Cave Aged Chandoka.
Havarti: Emmi Roth, Monroe, Roth Creamy Havarti.
Havarti, flavored: Arla Foods, Kaukauna, Dofino Havarti.
Lowfat Cheeses: Klondike Cheese Co., Monroe, Odyssey Lowfat Feta.
Lowfat Yogurt, cow's milk: Yodelay Yogurt, Madison, Yodelay Yogurt - Tart Cherry.
Mozzarella: Agropur, Luxemburg.
Mozzarella, fresh: Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo.
Parmesan: Schuman Cheese, Turtle Lake, Cello Parmesan.
Pasteurized Process Cheese: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, New London.
Pasteurized Process Cheese, flavored: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, New London.
Pasteurized Process Cheese Slices: Associated Milk Producers Inc., Portage.
Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread: Land O Lakes, Spencer.
Pepper Flavored Cheese, medium heat: Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin, Darlington, The Big Moo - Hoppin' Jalapeno.
Pepper Flavored Monterey Jack, high heat: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Comstock, Ellsworth Habanero Ghost Pepper Jack Cheese.
Prepared Cheese Foods: Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin, Darlington, The Big Moo - Oh So Original.
Provolone: Agropur, Luxemburg.
Provolone, aged: BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark, BelGioioso Mandarini aged provolone.
Provolone, smoked: Cedar Valley Cheese, Belgium.
Shredded Cheese Blend, flavored & unflavored: Sartori Cheese, Plymouth, Sartori Tuscan Blend.
Smoked Hard Cheeses: Meister Cheese Company, Muscoda, Smoked Cheddar
Washed rind/smear ripened hard cheeses, extra aged: Emmi Roth, Monroe, Roth Grand Cru Surchoix.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: 7 of the world's best cheeses are made in Wisconsin, says contest