Did you know that the United States Championship Cheese Contest was held in Green Bay, Wisconsin? I should have had you guess first. But yes, this was the championship of the whole United States and it was not only in Green Bay but was held in the Atrium of Lambeau Field, home of the Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packers (see a 360º view of the Atrium here). Now the atrium is just a great big hall with restaurants and shops (like The Packer Pro Shop) that was attached in 2003 to make us think that the Packer organization was remodeling the stadium thus convincing the county to charge us an additional .5% sales tax to pay for it.
I think they added some sky boxes too. But that’s an argument that played out many years ago.
But I digress, back to the Cheese Championship. We found out about it from an announcement in the newspaper. The part that really interested us was “free samples.” Not one to let a food opportunity pass us by, we thought this might be an interesting field trip. It was a three-day event but 10-12 on Friday were the finals and awards ceremony so that was the time we picked to be cheese spectators. Unlike game days the parking lot was pretty empty and we had no trouble getting a spot close to the door. Past the statue of the big cheese himself, Vince Lombardi, we entered the atrium.
A small crowd, some standing, some seated in folding chairs sat around an awards podium. Behind the podium was about 6 tables surrounded by men and women in white lab coats and wearing either brown, white or red caps. Not a Cheesehead in sight!
We headed directly to a table on the side with samples of winners in various categories from the previous year. Cheddar w/chipotle chili, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Feta w/basil and tomatoes and Brie, just to name a few.
After a couple more trips to the tasting table we headed back to the action in the judging area.
We found out from a nearby guy in a brown cap (his duties being done for the day) that the brown caps were the “B Team”, essentially gophers who moved cheese, tidied up and keep things organized. The white caps were the Judges. These guys and gals were boring holes in the blocks and rounds of cheese and then examining, sniffing and tasting the cheese that was removed. There was a lot of spitting behind the tables. Like wine tasters, cheese judges don’t swallow, otherwise they’d all be the size of Packer linemen. 1602 cheeses had been entered from thirty states so over the last two days these guys/gals had been trying a lot of cheese. After the taste they would scribble away on their clipboards.
Every ten minutes or so the Red Caps (the Cheese Heads?) would call time and the judges would move from one tasting table to the next. Time passes slowly at a cheese championship so we went over to the Cheese Sculpture on display at the other end of the atrium. This was done by Sarah Kaufmann who says on her bio card that she ” carves cheese in her home studio and on location across the U.S.” She was there sporting a cheese top hat and cow print overalls. She does a lot of sports cheese sculpture. This one is of two Wisconsin champions, the Cheese Champions and those other guys who play in the big field behind the Atrium.
Soon the Red Caps called out the final round. Cheeses were being removed from the tasting tables and placed attractively on the awards podium along with drapery and fruit. Once all of them were out there we waited while the computers did the final tabulation. And then the moment we had been waiting for! Just like the Miss America contest we started with the 2nd runner-up: Holland’s Family Cheese of Thorp, WI for their aged Gouda Super. Screams and cheers!!! 1st runner-up: Sartori Foods in Plymouth, WI for their SarVecchio Parmesan. More cheering! And finally, the Winner of the 2011 US Cheese Championship: Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms in Chilton, WI for Evalon, a hard goat’s milk cheese. Shouts and cheers! Wisconsin had creamed the competition!
So yes, we are Cheeseheads up here and we wear our wedge proudly whether it be in the Dairy or on the football field.
By the way, at the championship we noticed the owner of our local fromagerie so we stopped in yesterday and got some of the winning gouda and goat’s milk cheese. They are great.
An aside: A number of years ago, Wisconsin entertained the idea of dropping the America’s Dairyland slogan from our license plates and adopting something newer and catchier; and they solicited suggestions from the public. My favorite –