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Whatever You Do, Don’t Cut the Cheese

United States Championship Cheese Contest

In a few weeks, dairy and cheese enthusiasts will convene from all over the country as thousands of cheeses vye for a spot on the list of America’s best. This year, the 18th biennial United States Championship Cheese contest will take place from March 17–19 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Our Web Editor, Amy, offers a tip to anyone struggling to keep the name of this competition straight: “To remember the correct order of words in the name, go alphabetically with the C words.”)

Each year, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association hosts either the World Championship Cheese Contest or the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. Last year’s World Championship gave first place to a Swiss Emmentaler, and cheesemakers in this year’s domestic competition are no doubt vying for that top spot in next year’s World contest—an American cheese hasn’t won since 1988. This year, though, thirty-two judges hark from seventeen different states and include experts on not only cheese but also butter and yogurt. It’s expected that these dairy experts will judge over 1,800 entries over the course of the three-day contest.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is making no qualms about which state he’d like to see take home some Best Cheese titles. Walker believes that cheesemakers from Wisconsin “make it better than anyone in the world, but,” he adds in an article by Bloomberg, “we do not begrudge anyone else trying to make a better cheese.” And with home-state advantage, Wisconsin, the mother of all cheese producing states, has a pretty good chance. The 2013 U.S. contest crowned a Wisconsin Gouda as winner, followed by runners-up: a Vermont-made Tarentaise and a cheddar from Illinois.

The contest’s website does offer “secret tips for winning gold” with advice on properly completing entry forms, best methods of shipping to ensure perfect samples, and rules for how to present cheese. For instance, one such rule reminds entrants not to cut their cheeses, though there are exceptions: “cheeses formed in 640 lb. blocks can be cut into 40 lb. blocks.”

SIX-HUNDRED AND FORTY POUNDS! That’s heavier than three baby elephants, people.

The U.S. Championship Cheese contest is free and open to the public during preliminary rounds of judging on Wednesday, March 17 from 10am–5pm and Wednesday, March 18th from 8–5pm. The final round of judging is a ticketed charity event and proceeds benefit the Hunger Task Force.

If you’d like to enter your own cheese in the running, fill out an entry form at www.uschampioncheese.com by February 18th. May the best cheese win. And keep an eye out for culture’s Best Cheeses issue as we use the contest’s first-placers to choose some of our favorites!

Preliminary Judging Rounds
Mar 17 10–5pm and Mar 18 8–5pm
Exhibit Hall A
Wisconsin Center
400 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI

Feature Photo Credit: US Championship Cheese Contest

Michelina DelGizzi

Michelina DelGizzi, MS, MPH, is a writer and caseophile based in Boston and Lafayette, La.