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How to Make an Award-Winning Cheese Plate

The origin of winning awards dates back to Greece and Rome (Olympics, anyone?), and in America, the history of receiving medals of recognition began with George Washington honoring soldiers for their service in the Revolutionary War. You’d be hard pressed to find a field without accolades, and the cheese industry is no exception. Whole Foods Market’s Ambassador of Food Culture (former Vice President of Specialty and Global Cheese Expert) Cathy Strange is no stranger to award winning, either. She’s judged a host of competitions and has received many honors, including the first American awarded the “Coltellino d’oro” or “Golden Knife” from the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium in 2014. Strange was one of 42 expert judges at the 2023 US Championship Cheese Competition, a biennial technical competition for cheese, butter, and yogurt established by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in 1981. “The opportunity to judge with amazing professionals is always an incredible experience,” Strange says. “Every event is special in so many ways.” Europa, an aged gouda-style cheese from Arethusa Farm Dairy won the 2023 US Champion title with an exceptional 98.739 out of 100, narrowly followed by Red Barn Family Farms’ Vintage Cupola at 98.613. “I was impressed by the Europa last year for being a first-time entry,” Strange says. “The cheesemaker was able to leverage experience from Wisconsin and translate it to the new production facility and a different milk source, and the result was a winning cheese. I still have a visceral memory of the flavor.”

Throughout her career, Strange has noted a shift in styles of award-winning cheeses, too. “The washed, soft-ripened cheeses that are matured and/or washed with specifically selected beers/ wines/brines have been spectacular!” she notes. “Artisanal cheesemakers continue to innovate and push boundaries in a great way.” And there are many success stories of how awards can launch a maker’s brand. Strange remembers both LaClare Creamery and Marieke Gouda’s US Cheese Championship wins from 2011 and 2013, respectively. At that time, LaClare’s Katie Fuhrmann was the youngest cheesemaker to win the prestigious award for her goat’s milk gouda-style Evalon. Marieke Penterman has collected numerous championship wins for her goudas since opening her creamery in 2007, however her most notable accolade was winning the US Champion title in 2013. “Dan Carter introduced me to this special cheese in LaCrosse at the championships and I predicted one day Marieke would win,” Strange says.

Though debated, awards are important. They can propel brands into stardom and validate hard work and passion, and awards bring folks together, providing a sense of celebration and tradition that sparks innovation and collaboration. Entering competitions also allows makers an opportunity to gauge which areas they should improve and helps benchmark excellence and quality of their products. Strange observes, “US cheesemakers are innovative, dedicated, and have can-do attitudes that drive them to create. They collaborate and inspire each other to be better every day, which is appreciated by cheesemakers around the world.”

Here are five award-winning pairings curated by our team. Cheeses have won Gold at the 2023 US Championship Cheese Contest, and corresponding accompaniments have won 2023 Good Food Awards in various categories.

GOAT RODEO FARM & DAIRY HOOTENANNY + Patti’s Rosemary Roasted Nuts
Origin: Allison Park, Pa. Milk: Pasteurized Goat

Made from spring and summer goat’s milk, Hootenanny tastes like wildflowers and mildly sweet pecans. Draw out those floral notes by pairing this supple wedge with an array of almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts tossed in rosemary with a hint of cayenne heat.

Origin: Brooten, Minn. Milk: Pasteurized Cow

This hearty cheddar is earthy and savory with a smooth finish, yielding nutty notes of chocolate. Pair with Creo’s warm and buttery milk chocolate confection for a comforting and crowd-pleasing combo.

JACOBS & BRICHFORD CHEESE BRIANA + Smoking Goose Saucisson Rouge
Origin: Connersville, Ind. Milk: Raw Cow

Like an Italian-style Alpine cheese, washed- rind Briana is mildly pungent with herby notes of f resh f ruit. For unique twist, combine this smooth and slightly pudgy cheese with a sturdy, flavor- packed salame such as Saucisson Rouge f rom Smoking Goose.

Origin: Appleton, Wis. Milk: Raw Cow

Crispy, snackable, banana- nut-bread-like crisps + smooth, tropically, caramelly cheese = your next dessert replacement. With just three ingredients (nuts, bananas, and raisins), organic Monkey Brittle is the ideal crunchy base to top with Cupola, a handcrafted, raw-milk parmesan/gouda hybrid with hints of nuts and pineapple.

ARETHUSA FARM DAIRY EUROPA + Blake Hill Preserves Fresh Tomato Savory Jam
Origin: Bantam, Conn. Milk: Pasteurized Cow

A riff on Dutch Gouda, Europa smells like butterscotch and toasty nuts and tastes like a melty umami bomb. Upgrade this award-winning stunner with sweet and savory tomato jam f rom Blake Hill Preserves for a chewy bite reminiscent of Neapolitan pizza.

Mallory Scyphers

Mallory Scyphers is culture's Executive Content Director and has been with the company since 2019. She lives on Mobile Bay with her husband, two young daughters, one old Shetland Sheepdog, one rambunctious golden retriever, and one calico cat. Her favorite cheeses are alpine styles and mineral-y blues.

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