The Cheese Insider

The American Cheese Society annual conference was held in Madison the first weekend of August. Over 1,000 industry attendees converged on the capital city for four days of cheese education, cheese tastings, judging and competition, and lots of partying.

People attending this gala event included, cheesemakers, retailers, wholesalers/distributors, educators, authors, media, and people that are just crazy about cheese. The event is held in a different city somewhere in North America each summer. It was last held in Madison fifteen years ago, so it was great to have it back in the heartland of cheese. This year the conference attracted a record number of attendees, and a record number of cheeses entered in the judging and competition. There were 1,794 cheeses entered in this prestigious competition all with hopes of winning a ribbon from a panel of nationally recognized judges. For many of the cheesemakers winning a ribbon can be a life-changing event. The impact of a winning is usually felt almost immediately by the cheesemaker. Their cheese is suddenly sought after by the distributors, retailers and cheese shops throughout the United States and Canada.

My wife, Janice, and Kathy McCarthy, operations director of our company, joined me at the conference which began on Wednesday night. Janice and I served as “hosts” for a pub crawl in downtown Madison. Seven different pubs had three artisan cheese makers from Wisconsin, offering a tasting of their signature cheeses. It gave the “crawlers” a chance to meet the cheesemakers while enjoying some of their favorite beverages.

We were stationed at The Old Fashioned, a wildly popular gastro pub located on the Capital Square. The cheesemakers joining us were some of our favorites, Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese, Chris Roelli of Roelli Cheese Haus, and Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy. This evening of fun reminded us all how cheese people know how to party and enjoy great cheese.

During the day, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, a number of very interesting seminars were presented. Although I am not a big fan of sitting in a room for 2 – 3 hours listening to a panel of experts, I must say that all the seminars I attended were very informative. During breaks, it provided a great time to network with fellow industry people.

Thursday night a gala party, sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, was held on the rooftop of Monona Terrace, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed community center on the shores of Lake Monona. On Friday night, a big night for cheesemakers, the award ceremony was held. We sat near a group of very nervous Wisconsin cheesemakers, all holding their breath, hoping their name is called.

As expected, the Badger state dominated the number of ribbons awarded, winning 90. The next closest state in terms of ribbons won were California with 35, Vermont 27, and Oregon rounding out the top four with 20 ribbons. A complete list of winners can be found at

Some of the winners from Wisconsin are people we know very well and carry their cheeses in our Egg Harbor cheese shop. Carr Valley Cheese (Sid Cook) won 13 ribbons; Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby won six, Bleu Mont Dairy (Willi Lehner) won four, including three first place ribbons and 3rd place in the “Best of Show.” Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese won three; including two 1st place ribbons for her amazing raw milk Gouda. Joe Widmer of Widmer’s Cheese Cellars won two, while Andy Hatch (Uplands Cheese) and Chris Roelli (Roelli Cheese Haus) each took home a ribbon apiece.

The list of Wisconsin Cheesemakers that won ribbons was very impressive, and we want to congratulate them all for their efforts. It was a great night of fun, topped off by parties till the wee hours. Like I said earlier, cheese people love to party.