Lafayette County Cheese Producers brought home eight top prizes from the 2012 World Championship Cheese Contest.
Five companies throughout Lafayette County earned first, second or third awards in the biennial cheese contest, which was held at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison on March 7. Cheeses from around the world were judged in 82 different categories.
The local winners noted the quality milk product and exceptional staff as contributing to their success.
Local winners included:
• Best of class: Brunkow Cheese, Darlington, for Raw Milk Cheddar with Horseradish in the cold pack cheese spread category
• Best of class: Lactalis American Group, Belmont, for Brie 3 kg in the Brie category
• Second award: Brunkow Cheese, Darlington, for Brun-uusto Baked Cheese in the prepared cheese foods category
• Second award: Zimmerman Cheese, South Wayne, for 5-pound Asadero Wheel in the quesos para fundir category
• Third award: Mexican Cheese Producers, Darlington, for Quesos Fresco Wheel WM in the quesos frescos category
• Third award: Montchevre-Betin, Inc., Belmont, for Fresh and Natural Goat Cheese in the soft goat’s milk cheeses category
• Third award: Montchevre-Betin, Inc., Belmont, for Garlic and Herbs Goat Cheese in the flavored soft goat’s milk cheeses category
• Third award: Zimmerman Cheese, South Wayne, for 5-pound brick loaf in the brick muenster category
Joe Burns, cheese maker at Brunkow Cheese, said they have entered the contest and have won some awards over the last few years, but this was their first gold medal in a category.
“It’s good recognition to know we’re making some of the best cheese out there,” Burns said. “The judges are esteemed professionals from all over, so if they like the cheese it shows that we are doing something right.”
Burns said even though Brunkow Cheese is produced in a small community like Fayette, with limited means they can craft just as good of a product as other companies.
“I think it shows a lot for the great work all the dairy farmers do,” Burns said about the eight awards cheese producers in Lafayette County received.
Burns said the gold medal cheese—Raw Milk Cheddar with Horseradish—is a unique product in the sense that not many people make a raw milk cheddar spread.
“It didn’t surprise us we won,” Burns said. “That cheese sells 2-to-1 for us. It’s a popular choice throughout the Midwest.”
The Brun-uusto Baked Cheese, placing second for Brunkow Cheese, is one of only a half-dozen of its type made in the United States.
“It’s encouraging to see we’re making it right,” Burns said.
Lactalis American Group
Christoph Renaudeau, plant manager of Lactalis American Group in Belmont, said this isn’t the first world championship award the company has received. With a first for their Brie, they placed better this year than the third they received four years ago.
“The contest is a good way to recognize the quality of the cheese maker and show the tradition in Belmont of the brie product,” Renaudeau said.
Renaudeau said the company sends one cheese maker to France every year for training to make brie.
“Lafayette County is traditionally a cheese area, Renaudeau said. “We need to maintain this type of tradition.”
Lactalis won a gold medal for its brie cheese, a soft cheese. John Burris was the cheese maker recognized for this award.
Mexican Cheese Producers
Randy Raymond, plant manager at Mexican Cheese Producers, said the company has entered the world championship contest before but this was their first award from it.
“It’s a feather in our cap,” Raymond said. “It shows where we’re at compared to everybody else.”
Raymond said the county’s numerous awards “says a lot about the quality of cheese production and the quality of milk here in Lafayette County.”
The third-place winner fresco cheese is a fresh cheese with a higher ph and high moisture. Raymond said it has a very short shelf life.
“It’s almost like drinking milk,” Raymond said. “Ninety percent of our production is fresh cheese and half of that is the fresco.”
Raymond said the company has five licensed cheese makers. The two listed for this award-winning cheese were Brian Mundt and Luis Aragon.
Jean Rossard, plant manager of Montchevre, said the company has entered this contest since they started in Belmont in 1989. He said they did very well last year at the national competition by earning two gold medals and he was pleased with this year’s awards as well.
“It’s harder with more people entering,” Rossard said. “But we’re happy with the results.”
He said the awards show that Montchevre is consistently producing quality product.
“Even a third is a good award for us,” Rossard said. “It shows all of the hard work that goes into the product pays off. The farmers are doing a good job producing good goat milk for us.”
Rossard said Lafayette County is a good place to make cheese. Having many award-winning cheese producers in one area helps promote dairy and goat cheese products.
Melissa Foeking was the cheese maker in charge of the Fresh and Natural Goat Cheese and Michelle Weber took charge on the Garlic and Herbs Goat Cheese.
Paul Witke, co-owner of Zimmerman Cheese, said they’re always happy to get recognition. They have been entering the world championship contest for many years and have reaped numerous awards.
“We have a long history with the World Championship Cheese Contest,” Witke said. “The awards themselves don’t mean much. We don’t produce any special cheese for the contest. We use what comes off of our line.”
Witke said the award stands as recognition for the staff and the good patron milk that is supplied to help produce the quality cheeses.
“It’s a testament to the people who work for us and the farmers who produce the milk,” Witke said.
Witke said cheese producers throughout Lafayette County have produced excellent cheeses, as demonstrated by the awards received through this contest.
“The cheese makers have put a lot of time and effort into their craft,” Witke said. “Lafayette County is known for its specialty cheeses. Many of them are family-owned businesses that take the time to make something they’d be proud to eat, not just something to put on the market.”
Zimmerman Cheese won second place for Quesos Para Fundir, which Witke said translates to “cheese for melting,” and third place for brick muenster.
Witke said the muenster is most of what the company produces. He said southern Wisconsin is known for muenster cheese.
The company’s three cheese makers—Dennis Schliem, Walter Hartwig and Chad Duhai—created the award-winning cheeses for Zimmerman Cheese.