As 2019 draws to a close, we’re not only looking forward to a new year ahead—2020 marks the start of a brand-new decade. While ten years is a drop in the bucket compared to Wisconsin’s 175 year cheese-making history (heck, we age some cheeses longer than ten years), we want to take time to remember and celebrate all of the beautiful moments that occurred during the 2010s.
As our friends in Plymouth, Wisconsin get ready to ring in the New Year with a “Big Cheese Drop", here’s a look back at our most notable Wisconsin Cheese memories from each year of the past decade.
2010: Pleasant Ridge Reserve Makes History
Thousands of cheesemakers submit samples of their finest creations each year to the American Cheese Society (ACS) Judging & Competition, the largest contest of its kind for American-made cheeses. During the 2010 competition, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an aged, alpine-style cheese made at Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, became the most awarded cheese in American history upon winning its third Best in Show title at this prestigious event.
No other cheese in history has been a repeat Best in Show winner at the ACS contest, yet Pleasant Ridge took home its third title in 2010. Talk about a grate start to the decade.
2011: Welcome to the World, Red Rock
It’s no secret that Wisconsin takes cheese seriously. Our pride and passion for cheesemaking began long before we were even a state, and Wisconsin cheesemakers make more flavors and varieties of cheese than anywhere else on Earth.
That urge to experiment, to innovate and push boundaries in the pursuit of something new, has brought some truly exceptional original cheese varieties into the world, and 2011 graced us with an especially unique cheese: Red Rock. Named for the local stone that surrounds the room in which it is aged, Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli colors this award-winning cheddar-blue hybrid with twice the annatto of traditional cheddars.
The use of double annatto gives the cheese a striking, bright orange-red color with veins of blue permeating throughout, creating a final product that is both breathtaking and unforgettable.
2012: The Discovery of the 40 Year Cheddar
2012 was the year Edward Zahn made the decision to close his cheese shop in Oconto, Wisconsin. While the news of a cheese shop closing its doors is rarely cause for celebration among our crowd of turophiles, this closure led to a cheese discovery for the ages(literally). While clearing out the back of his walk-in cooler, Zahn discovered several wooden boxes of cheddar that had been buried within his inventory and overlooked for years.
The result was a 40-year-old cheddar, made in 1972 during the Nixon Administration, that became what cheese experts believe is the oldest collection of cheese ever sold publicly.
The cheese was featured in the “Ultimate Cheddar Flight,” a tasting event at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Cheese Mart. The tasting began with a 1-year cheddar and culminated with the 40-year cheddar: It was a cheese lover’s paradise.
2013: Introducing Wisconsin's Second Female Master Cheesemaker
More history was made in April of 2013, this time at Sartori Cheese in Plymouth, when cheesemaker Pam Hodgson became the second woman in history to receive a Master Cheesemaker Certification. The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program is the only program of its kind outside of Europe: it is a rigorous three-year course of study that requires a minimum of 10 years licensed cheesemaking experience before one can even be considered for admittance.
Since receiving her certification in 2013, Pam has made it her mission to bring more women into the Master’s program.
She already has one on board: her daughter, whose birth prompted Pam to join the cheese world in the first place, is now a cheesemaker herself. Check out our blog about Pam to learn more about her incredible journey to mastery.
2014: 100 Years of Green County Cheese Days
September 19, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of Green County Cheese Days, a food festival that celebrates the cheesemaking, dairy farming and Swiss traditions that have been a cultural hallmark of Green County, Wisconsin since 1846. More than 50 varieties of cheese are made in this special Wisconsin county, and the festival gives cheese lovers the opportunity to sample them all.
Held every other year in Monroe, Wisconsin, Cheese Days remains a beloved event that brings in more than 100,000 cheese-loving revelers to polka, yodel, play alphorns, and eat award-winning cheese by the truckload. Seriously.
2015: National Cheese Curd Day Declared
Photo by Sahar Sheikh Photography (@sahartron)
In 2015, Wisconsin-based restaurant Culver’s officially declared October 15th as National Cheese Curd Day, a holiday devoted to celebrating and enjoying the goodness of our favorite cheesy treat. There's no doubt in our minds that cheese curds are deserving of their own national holiday. After all, they play an extremely important role during the cheesemaking process. Curds are formed when cheesemaking cultures and a coagulating enzyme called rennet are introduced to milk, so you can think of them as the youngest form of cheese.
Cheese curds are the darlings of Wisconsin: If you’ve ever been here – or talked to anyone who has – you’ve undoubtedly heard someone singing their squeaky praises.
These little Wisconsin wonders are favored by cheese lovers far and wide, perhaps no more so than when served up fried. Is your mouth watering? Fear not, you don’t have to wait until October to enjoy these cheesy treats(we sure won’t be). We’ve even got a handy recipe to fry up your own curds at home in the air fryer.
2016: The Best Cheese in the World
2016 was a year of exceptionally cheesy victories for two Wisconsin cheese companies. The first victory occurred during the World Championship Cheese Contest in March, when Grand Cru Surchoix, a washed-rind, alpine-style cheese made by Roth Cheese in Monroe, was named the 2016 World Champion Cheese out of a field of 2,948 entries from 23 countries.
It was the first time in nearly 30 years that a cheese made in the U.S. won the World Championship Cheese Contest.
Grand Cru's mighty victory wasn't the only amazing win of 2016. Wisconsin carried its success into July, when Little Mountain, an Appenzeller-style cheese made by Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli, was named Best in Show at the 2016 American Cheese Society Contest out of a field of 1,843 entries from 37 U.S. States.
We know: how could things possibly go up from here? Just keep reading, friends.
2017: Cheesemakers Donate To Hurricane Victims
Several hurricanes devastated the southern United States during the fall of 2017, and cheesemakers from across the state joined forces to provide over 45,000 pounds of Wisconsin Cheese to the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida.
The initial goal for this relief effort was 200 pounds of cheese, but donations continued to pour in from over 26 cheese companies throughout the state-totaling over 45,000 pounds.
Two delivery trucks were filled with award-winning Wisconsin Cheese, from colby and curds to aged gouda and muenster, before making the journey to the Houston Food Bank and Feeding South Florida.
2018: A World Record for Wisconsin Cheese
2018 was a record-breaking year for Wisconsin Cheese. First, we took the world’s longest cheeseboard to SXSW, one of the world’s largest conferences for marketers and brand launches, by building the #SXSWisconsin Lounge.
The lounge, which offered a 70-foot-long cheeseboard piled with over 2,000 pounds of award-winning Wisconsin Cheeses, was the most successful in SXSW history, with attendees waiting over an hour for the opportunity to experience the cheeseboard for themselves.
While a 70-foot-long cheese board is nothing to scoff at, we love a cheesy challenge here in Wisconsin, and we came home from SXSW with an even bigger goal for 2018: to break the Guinness World Record for world's largest cheese board.
Did we break it? You bet we did, and we did it right here in Wisconsin.
The massive cheeseboard was 35 feet long, seven feet wide, and contained over two tons of cheese: it took up an entire street in Madison, Wisconsin. We told you, we take cheese seriously here. Really, really seriously.
The board was topped with 4,437 pounds of Wisconsin cheese, including 145 different varieties and styles, breaking the record previously set by European cheesemakers by over 1,000 pounds.
2019: Celebrating 25 Years of Master Cheesemakers
We finished off the decade by celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program. This program is the most advanced education program in the art and science of cheesemaking outside of Switzerland, and has proven to be one of the best demonstrations of Wisconsin’s cheesemaking greatness.
Completing the Master Program is both an intense commitment and an impressive accomplishment-one that only 80 cheesemakers have achieved in the past 25 years.
In commemoration of this momentous anniversary, the program’s prestigious Master’s Mark logo has received an update, including the addition of a personalized Mark for every graduate of the program.
With major awards, new world records, and 100 years of celebrating our state’s love of cheese, the 2010s were full of truly unforgettable memories for all who love Wisconsin Cheese. Here's to you, 2020, we can't wait to see what cheesy adventures the next decade will bring!
Are you ringing in the new year with a NYE cheeseboard? Be sure to share your creation with us on Instagram or Facebook and become part of the largest cheese community in the world.