Celebrating Wisconsin's Champion Cheeses

March 5, 2020

Celebrating Wisconsin's Champion Cheeses

While Wisconsin Cheese is no stranger to awards, we can't help but get excited every time we come home with an award. It always feels like the first time.

The Super Bowl of Cheese

Every two years, the best cheese makers in the world gather in Madison, Wisconsin for the World Championship Cheese Contest. In 2022, competitors from 26 countries, including 36 U.S. states, are going up against a record-breaking 3,667 cheese, butter, yogurt, and dry dairy entries.

The biannual event, hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, is regarded as The Super Bowl of Cheese. Entries are evaluated by a team of skilled technical judges from all over the world.

Starting from a maximum possible 100 points, deductions are made for various defects found by each judge. Defects are noted in the areas of flavor, body and texture, salt, color, finish, packaging, and other appropriate attributes.

A Gold medal, Silver medal and Bronze medal are awarded to the three highest-scoring entries in each class, with the top 20 scoring cheeses entered in the running for the final, coveted title of "World Cheese Champion."

Seven Wisconsin cheeses ranked in the world's top 20 at the 2022 World Championship Cheese Contest displaying Wisconsin Cheesemakers' premier expertise.

In fact, Wisconsin cheeses have won a total of 5,552 awards since 1995. It's almost as if we're obsessed with making the greatest cheese in the world.

Award-winning Wisconsin Cheeses

While the final winners of the 2020 World Cheese Championship have yet to be announced, Wisconsin's full list of award winners throughout history is far too long to list individually.

There are, however, several award-winning moments over the past few years that have proven to be especially significant.

Here is a look back at three Wisconsin cheeses that have taken home the top prize at various cheese contests over the past decade.

Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve 

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 from grass-fed milk 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. 

If you're looking for the best of the best in the world of artisan cheese, you don't have to look any farther than a wedge of this exceptional alpine-style cheese. 

Loosely based on the French Beaufort, which is also made from grass-fed milk, Pleasant Ridge is rich and salty, with a long, fruity finish.

The sweetness born from the grass-fed milk combines with the savory flavors developed by the cheese’s natural, washed rind.  The resulting complexity – rich and salty, with a long, fruity finish – has made Pleasant Ridge one of the most distinctive and celebrated cheeses in the country.

Roth Grand Cru Surchoix

At the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest, Grand Cru® Surchoix, a washed-rind, alpine-style cheese made by Roth Cheese in Monroe, bested a field of 2,948 entries from 23 countries when it was named the 2016 World Champion Cheese.

It was the first time in nearly 30 years that a cheese made in the U.S. won the World Championship Cheese Contest, and that cheese was made right here in Wisconsin.

Grand Cru® Surchoix is a member of Roth Cheese's flagship line of Grand Cru® alpine style cheeses: only a few wheels of Grand Cru® meet the stringent requirements of the company’s cheesemakers to become Surchoix.

Surchoix is aged a minimum of nine months to create a firm texture and complex flavors of caramel, fruit and mushroom.

Sartori Black Pepper BellaVitano

In 2017, Wisconsin swept the top three placings at the U.S. Cheese Championship, which is also hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association during the years between subsequent World Cheese Championship Contests.

It was Black Pepper BellaVitano, a Wisconsin Original made by Sartori Cheese, that reigned supreme over a field of 2,303 entries from 24 states to take the top spot during this significantly memorable year for Wisconsin Cheese awards. 

BellaVitano is no stranger to the winner's circle, having won a trophy case full of national and international awards: 151 to be exact.

This nutty, fruity, cow's milk cheese is truly a variety of its own. We like to describe it as a hybrid of a young, creamy cheddar with the crystalline crunch of a premium farmstead parmesan.

The Black Pepper variety that took home the 2017 U.S. Champion title isn't the only flavor of this special cheese. BellaVitano can be hand-rubbed or soaked with an array of different flavors like Espresso, Chai, Raspberry, Merlot, Citrus Ginger, and many more.

If you’re lucky enough to enjoy BellaVitano at your table, you’ve just corralled yourself a unique piece of time-honored Wisconsin culture. Savor it.

The State of Cheese

As mentioned before, the cheeses we discussed today are only three examples of the award-winning quality that Wisconsin cheese exemplifies. After all. the 5,552 awards we've won really do speak for themselves.

Wisconsin really is one of those places that does one thing better than anyone else anywhere. We've been making cheese in Wisconsin for over 175 years, which may be one reason we win so many awards for it. Wisconsin is what happens when a whole state dreams in cheese.

For our fellow "curd nerds" who can't wait to hear the outcome of the 2024 World Championship Cheese Contest, be sure to follow along on the contest Facebook page. More information about the contest is available here. While you're at it, don't forget to follow us over on Instagram or Facebook and become part of the largest cheese community in the world.


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