Fri 24 Mar, 2006 10:58 pm
Swiss Named the Big Cheese in Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - It was all in the cheese's eyes. An emmentaler swiss cheese crafted in Switzerland with near perfect distribution of the holes that make the cheese famous took top honors Thursday at the World Championship Cheese Contest.
The cheese, with a taste the top judge described as nutty and sweet, beat out two gouda entries from the Netherlands as the overall winner. There were 1,793 entries from 18 countries, ranging from cheddar to edam to flavored spreadable cheese.
After tasting some 50 cheeses in a two-hour championship round, judge Mark Johnson said the swiss crafted by Walo Von Muhlenen was near perfect.
"The workmanship that had to go into that piece of cheese was outstanding," said Johnson, who works at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Dairy Research as a troubleshooter for cheese makers.
Thursday marked the culmination of the three-day world championships, with 50 categories for cheeses and butters. Each begins with a score of 100 with deductions for imperfections as judges arrive at scores that produce a gold, silver and bronze winner in each class.
Judges can take several minutes with each cheese in the early rounds, grading for presentation, texture, smell and taste. They swirl the samples in their mouths like fine wine, trying to pull out the characteristics - before spitting out a mouthful of cheese into a garbage can.
Johnson said judges deduct points if flavors are not in balance or a cheese does not smell right. Having an overpowering horse blanket taste is a typical problem. Johnson described it as "sweaty, barny, unclear."
"You know it when you taste it, but it's not a pleasant one," he said.
Entrants are not allowed to sample their cheeses, which must be received in their original packaging, uncut, or they are disqualified.
John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said producers will often taste cheese from the same batch but are unsure of the quality of the sample the judges will taste. He said producers have to trust their skills and have faith that their ingredients were good enough to create the right smell, flavor and texture.
The champions from each class were re-evaluated Thursday as part of the final judging. Judges went through some four dozen cheeses in two hours.
The champion averaged 98.271 from the 18 judges.
A good showing can be a boom for small cheese makers who specialize in hand-crafted cheeses.
Reining U.S. champion Randy Krahenbuhl came up short Thursday, taking only a bronze medal among the 12 entries he submitted.
His U.S. title last year for his swiss cheese emmentaler has opened doors for his growing cheese factory.
Krahenbuhl, who left his native Wisconsin four years ago as competition for quality milk among specialty cheese producers drove up prices, said markets in Pennsylvania, Texas and northern Indiana came calling after he took the title. His operation doubled in size over the past year, he said.
Krahenbuhl said he has long-term plans to continue growing his operation.
"I just love it in everything. We had macaroni and cheese last night," he said. "It goes in everything we make."