Aged Gouda Takes Top Spot in U.S. Championship Cheese Contest

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association announces winners across 113 classes
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Judge Jill Allen
Jill Allen of Tillamook Country Creamery in Oregon served as a judge for this year's U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin.

Following rounds (no pun intended) of competition, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Assocation (WCMA) has named the winners of its 21st U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. The contest honors top cheese, butter, yogurt and dry dairy ingredient products.

The association received nearly 2,500 entries from cheesemakers in 35 states. From Feb. 21-22, a team of more than 40 judges assembled in Green Bay, Wis., to evaluate each product across 113 categories using criteria such as flavor, aroma, texture and visual presentation. The winners were announced on Feb. 23 via livestream.

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According to the WCMA, the home state of Wisconsin (also known as the Dairy State) earned the highest number of gold medals. Cheesemakers in California won nine golds and those in Idaho took eight Best in Class Awards.

“The men and women of the U.S. dairy processing industry are exceptionally passionate and dedicated to crafting quality products, and that commitment shines through in the high caliber of this year’s winners. We congratulate them on their hard-earned and well-deserved success,” said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Madison, Wis.-based WCMA.

Arethusa Farm Dairy’s Europa cheese was recognized as the best overall entry in the contest. The aged gouda from the Bantam, Conn., dairy received a score of 98.739 out of 100 and was described as "heavenly" by a judge from Whole Foods Market. 

A vintage cupola American original cheese from the DACC Team at Red Barn Family Farms in Egg Harbor, Wis., took second place, while a cheddar variety from maker Dillon Sylla of Associated Milk Producers, Inc. in Blair, Wis., nabbed third prize.

The biennial contest honored winners across several subcategories, including eight classes of cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, cheese curds, Baby Swiss, three types of mozzarella, burrata, three varieties of provolone, asiago, parmesan, feta, muenster, havarti, blue cheese, brie, gorgonzola and more. Winners were also chosen for cottage cheese, ricotta cheese and cheese spreads and for a variety of crumbled and shredded cheeses, among other types. 

Oregon-based farmer-owned cooperative Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) reported that it captured six awards on the contest, including a first-, second- and third-place finish in the spreadable natural cheese category. TCCA’s director of product excellence, Jill Allen, returned to the event to take part in blind judging. "It's always an honor to have our hard work featured among the best-of-the-best, and with nearly 2,500 entries, this year's contest was especially competitive," said Allen. "At TCCA, we pride ourselves on using quality ingredients and never cutting corners, and it's exciting for that 114-year-old commitment to be recognized at such a prestigious level."

The full list of winners is posted online.

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