The Swiss win big, but Wisconsin cheeses also scored at the World Championship Cheese Contest.

MARCH 4, 2022Full Article:

Red Rock, a cheddar-blue from Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg.

In a world where nothing is the same as it was in March 2020, a Gruyère from Switzerland repeated as champion and Wisconsin cheeses dominated at the World Championship Cheese Contest Thursday at Monona Terrace.

Gourmino Le Gruyère AOP, made by Michael Spycher of Mountain Dairy Fritzenhaus in Bern, Switzerland, took top honors among 2,978 entries in the 2022 contest. An Appenzeller from Switzerland was first runner-up followed by a mature washed rind/smear-ripened hard cheese from Austria called Erzherzog Johann.

Seven Wisconsin cheeses were among the top 20 finalists. State cheeses won 45 Best in Class categories; next in line was New York with 12 and Idaho with 11.

The champion Gruyère, made in 70-pound wheels, also won in 2008 and in 2020.

“Wheels tend to dominate because of the workmanship and appearance,” says Jim Mueller, the contest’s chief judge. Of the winner, he says, “It has a unique flavor that is balanced with nutty notes and the color is nice and consistent. One cheese out of 3,000…it’s tough to get there but they did the job.”

The winning cheese comes from a small Alpine dairy, where 12 small farms within three miles deliver their raw milk within 18 hours. The cheese is available in the U.S., primarily in small specialty cheese shops on the East and West coasts.

Swiss cheesemakers have long dominated the top three spots at the championships, and they took home 10 gold medals in this week’s event. That nation’s tradition is like no other, Mueller says, and it shows. Mountain Dairy Fritzenhaus, home to the winning cheese, has been in business since 1847.

“They have a big history of cheesemakers, family to family handing down their recipes,” Mueller says.

One Wisconsin cheesemaker understands that tradition because it’s part of his family’s history, and now so is the cheese contest. Red Rock, a cheddar-blue from Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg, was among the 20 finalists. It was the first time a Roelli cheese had appeared in the world cheese contest’s finals but not a first big award for the company. Roelli’s Little Mountain, an Alpine cheese in the style of an Appenzeller, was named Best in Show at the American Cheese Society’s contest in 2016. 

Chris Roelli is a fourth-generation cheesemaker in the business started by his great-grandfather Adolph Roelli, who emigrated from Switzerland in the 1920s and started making cheese in Lafayette County. 

“I always consider the Swiss to be the bar for the very best cheesemaking in the world,” Roelli says. “To be included in that group is something I’m really proud of.” 

Red Rock is an American original that Roelli began making in 2011 after the success of his other well-regarded cheddar-blue, Dunbarton Blue. Beyond its creamy flavor, Red Rock stands out because of its orange color and slight blue vein. The bright color comes from Roelli’s use of twice as much annatto, a natural orange-red food coloring, than is used in standard colored cheddars. 

Six other Wisconsin cheeses were among the 20 finalists: an aged cheddar from Land O’Lakes in Kiel; Odyssey Peppercorn Feta from Klondike Cheese Company in Monroe; BelGioioso CreamyGorg from BelGioioso Cheese in Denmark; Castello Smoked Cracked Pepper Gouda from Arla Foods in Kaukauna; Roth Grand Cru Surchoix from Emmi Roth in Monroe, which also took top category honors in havarti; and Ocooch Reserve, a sheep’s milk cheese from Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby.

Large Wisconsin companies did well in the technical competition, and small Wisconsin producers fared well in their divisions, too. Best of Class winners from the state included Klondike again, Meister Cheese Company of Muscoda, Deer Creek of Kiel, Decatur Dairy of Brodhead, Arena Cheese of Arena, Chalet Cheese Co-op of Monroe, Crave Brothers of Waterloo, Sartori of Plymouth, Marieke Gouda of Thorp, Brunkow Cheese of Darlington, and LaClare Creamery of Malone.

In addition, Yodelay Yogurt of Madison took the top seven spots in lowfat yogurt.

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