GREEN BAY, Wis. — This leap is all about cheddars, Swiss and Goudas, not touchdowns by the Green Bay Packers.
When the 20th U.S. Championship Cheese Contest takes place next month in the atrium of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, judges will have a record number of entries to score from around the country.
The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison, Wis., said last week that entries for the biennial contest are up 11 percent from the 2017 event to 2,555 entries from 35 states. The contest, which began in 1981 and is now the nation’s largest technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition, also will have entries from 29 first-time competitors.
“The U.S. Championship Cheese Contest has grown steadily over the past two decades,” said Kirsten Strohmenger, WCMA events manager. “We’ve added several new classes this year as a way to reflect the emerging trends in the industry, and that’s part of the reason we’re seeing an increase in entries.”
New classes for this year include traditional waxed cheddars, natural rinded cheddar, other hard cheeses with natural rinds, burrata — a semi-soft Italian cheese — and dried dairy products. Entries in 116 classes will be judged on technical merits, including a product’s flavor, body, texture, salt, color, finish and packaging, with a single gold, silver and bronze medal awarded to top products in each class.
In 2017, Wisconsin cheesemakers dominated the competition that had 2,303 entries from 33 states. A Sartori Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano made by Mike Matucheski in Antigo was named best in show, while a cheddar from Agropur in Weyauwega was named first runner-up and a Gouda from Marieke Gouda in Thorp was second runner-up. In addition, Wisconsin cheesemakers placed first in 58 of the 101 categories and had 14 of the 20 spots in the finals.
The contest is free and open to the public, who can sample cheese and watch judges work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 5 and 6. The contest concludes March 7 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay, where the U.S. champion will be named. The event, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., is $30 per person and includes a guided tasting experience and samples of specialty products.
“This contest is very important to the cheesemakers vying for these prestigious awards,” Strohmenger said. “Not only do all the entrants receive valuable feedback from the judges, but winning a national competition is significant for brand awareness and marketing, not to mention great bragging rights.”
The U.S. Championship Cheese Contest takes place in alternating years with the World Championship Cheese Contest at Madison’s Monona Terrace.