In just one calendar year, the food world cycles through several different awards, all with varying degrees of prestige. The James Beard Foundation recognizes chefs, restaurants, authors, and hospitality leaders every May, while the World’s 50 Best Restaurants announces its list every summer. Then there's the newly minted “World Restaurant Awards,” which doles out its prizes in February, and Michelin guides of one-starred, two-starred, and three-starred restaurants around the world launch on a rolling basis. However, you might not know that there’s another global award dedicated to cheese—the annual American Cheese Society (ACS) Competition. Now in its 36th year, the competition is the largest of its kind for American-made cheeses, and the 2019 edition held in Richmond, Virginia saw 1,742 entries from 257 companies. 35 U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, Mexico, and Brazil were represented—as for the big winner? Unsurprisingly, it was Wisconsin, which took home more awards than any other state or country.
Per an announcement from the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin cheese, butter, and yogurt makers won 28 percent of all awards, with a grand total of 34 victorious companies and 122 awards—37 of which were first place ribbons, while there were also 37 second place ribbons. The winners include Klondike of Monroe (13 awards), Deer Creek of Sheboygan (7), Hook’s Cheese of Mineral Point (7), Maple Leaf Cheese (6), Emmi Roth of Monroe (5), Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese of Waterloo (4), Marieke Gouda of Thorp (3), and Renard’s Cheese (3). Graf Creamery also won the “Boss of Brunch” award for its Brethren Butter Amish Style Handrolled Salted Butter, while Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa won five awards for “Wisconsin Original Cheeses,” including brick and Colby.
Suzanne Fanning, senior vice president of the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Cheese CMO, said she's “incredibly proud of [the] Wisconsin dairy community” and praised the innovation and dedication of local cheesemakers. “Their commitment is evident in every slice of cheese, stick of butter and cup of yogurt they make,” Fanning said when the news broke.
To pick the winners, a team of almost two dozen experts reviewed the products for both aesthetics and technical properties. According to a promotional “Best of show 2016” video on the American Cheese Society’s site, the judges work to make sure this is an anonymous competition—and, of course, they get to try plenty of cheese, taking about seven minutes to judge each. John Antonelli, who’s previously served on the judging panel, described trucks arriving and filled “wall-to-wall” with cheese, which sounds like an absolute dream.
If you’re looking to learn more about Wisconsin’s many cheeses, we have a guide from local chefs, shopkeepers, and more on which cheeses you should buy when you visit. Roth Cheese’s Monroe cheese, a brine-washed double-cream, made the list, as did a four-year cheddar from Hook’s. Whether you’re into soft, hard, stinky, or mild, there’s bound to be a recommendation you’ll love.