Dutch Cheese Dethrones Swiss

Bill Schlingsog, left, of Middleton, WI passes off the championship trophy to Peter Piersma, a judge and Dutch representative, at the 2012 World Champion Cheese Contest Wednesday, March 7, 2012, in Madison, WI. The top winning Gouda was made by Freisland Campina Company in Wolvega, Netherlands. AP Photo/Andy Manis.

I wish I would have found out about this sooner.  A cheese festival!  Hundreds of cultured spectators nibbled on cheese and crackers (as if they had anything else) and waited patiently for an hour before dozens of judges named a Dutch Vermeer the world’s best cheese Wednesday night.

Once a nondescript industry affair with only by a handful of spectators and reporters, World Champion Cheese Contest is now a must-have ticket for Gouda connoisseurs.  The event sold out all of the 400 tickets in the first year they were offered.

Held every two years in Madison, the contest typically draws more than 2,000 entries from nearly two-dozen nations.  Usually only the judges taste the cheese, but this year’s ticketholders sampled 15 of the top entries, while mingling with Wisconsin cheesemakers and the international panel of judges.

The spectators witnessed a mild upset in the judging.  Swiss cheesemakers had won the past three contests and comprised two of the top three finalists this year.  But, it was a low-fat Gouda named Vermeer from Friesland Campina, a company based in Wolvega, Netherlands, that took top honors.  Who could have imagined there’d be drama at a cheese contest?  And, between the Dutch and the Swiss at that?

Friesland Campina didn’t have any representatives in Wisconsin, but will receive its formal award at a banquet in Madison next month.  Dutch judge Peter Piersma woke up the cheesemaker’s plant manager, Piet Nederhoed, with a phone call.  It was about 1 a.m. Holland time.  I know I would have been awake all night waiting for that call!  Seriously!  I’m as much a cheese lover as I am a rum and chicken fried steak aficionado!  I guess I’ll have to wait until next year’s festival.

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