Luke Buholzer, Klondike Cheese Company
Luke Buholzer, Klondike Cheese Company
    Wisconsin outdid every other state and country at the 36th annual American Cheese Society competition in Richmond, Va. Cheesemakers in America’s Dairyland won 122 awards, including 37 first-place ribbons, 37 second-place ribbons and 48 third-place ribbons, while also sweeping six different categories. Wisconsin attendees proudly united, waving flags and cheering on their fellow cheesemakers as the awards were distributed to 34 Wisconsin cheese and dairy companies.
    The competition took place on Aug. 2 and included 1,742 entries from 257 companies hailing from 35 states in the U.S., four Canadian provinces, Mexico and Brazil. Two dozen experts judged the cheese based on aesthetics and technical properties of each entry.
    “Wisconsin’s cheesemakers, butter and yogurt makers walked away with 28 percent of all the awards,” said Suzanne Fanning, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin senior vice president and Wisconsin Cheese CMO. “That is quite impressive given the number of entries in this competition. Winning an award here is a big deal, and we encourage cheesemakers to enter. It pushes their cheese into the national spotlight and can dramatically increase product sales and PR coverage.”
    The cheese factory that took home the most accolades from Wisconsin was Klondike Cheese Company of Monroe. Makers of award-winning feta, brick, muenster and Havarti cheeses, Klondike received 13 total awards and even swept the flavored feta – all milks category. Their prizes included three first-place, three second-place and seven third-place honors. Their muenster cheese was best of class in the American Originals - Brick Muenster - made from cow’s milk category, while their peppercorn feta won the Flavored Cheeses - Feta with Flavor Added - all milks category. Klondike also came out on top in the Flavored Cheeses - Reduced Fat Cheese with Flavor Added - all milks category for their reduced-fat Mediterranean feta.
    “The large variation in entries and company sizes at the ACS competition gives contestants a unique challenge and opportunity to compete with some of the industry’s best artisan cheesemakers,” said Luke Buholzer, vice president of sales at Klondike Cheese Company.
    Cheesemaking knowledge at Klondike has been handed down from generation to generation dating back to 1925 when Buholzer’s great-grandfather, Ernest Buholzer, became a cheesemaker. Owned by the Buholzer family, Klondike also makes Greek yogurts and packages their cheeses in various formats to accommodate retail, foodservice and industrial customers. The company employs 220 people, including six master cheesemakers – the most in any one location, according to Buholzer.
    “We’re very detail-oriented at Klondike, and that’s what takes cheese from being good cheese to gold-medal cheese,” Buholzer said. “We have a lot of eyes on the process and a great deal of passion for making cheese.”
    Known for crafting some of the world’s finest cheeses along with the largest variety, Wisconsin’s cheesemakers continue to garner more prizes at the ACS competition year after year. In 2001, they won 11 awards, and last year, they acquired 94 awards. Since 2001, the state has received over 1,500 awards total at this competition – more than the two next largest winners of California and Vermont combined.
    “Wisconsin cheesemakers are definitely the leaders,” Fanning said. “Wisconsin’s cheesemaking history and infrastructure combined with our cheesemakers’ amazing spirit of innovation and camaraderie produces an incredible product. Our cheesemakers never stop experimenting, improving and dreaming of new cheeses that most of us have yet to imagine. And this is why they are the best.”
    Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, Wis., is a dairy farm that makes award-winning cheese from milk produced by their own cows. Cheesemakers since 2002, the Craves specialize in mozzarella, Oaxaca, mascarpone and cheese curds, and were the recipients of four awards at this year’s ACS competition. Their mascarpone took first place in the Fresh Unripened Cheeses - Mascarpone and Cream Cheese - made from cow’s milk category while their chocolate mascarpone took first place in the Flavored Cheeses - Fresh Unripened Cheese with Flavor Added - all milks category. Craves also took first place in cheese curds for their white cheddar curd and third place in the Hispanic & Portuguese Style Cheeses – Fresh - Unripened - all milks category with their Oaxaca cheese. In addition, Craves’ flavored mascarpone was one of the top 20 finalists at the competition.  
    “It’s always a thrill to win and be recognized,” said George Crave, president of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese. “Almost every cheese we make has been awarded top in its category at some point, which helps increase the popularity of our cheeses and validates that we’re doing things right. The number of awards won by Wisconsin reflects the diversity of its cheesemakers’ outstanding achievements in all different categories – from soft cheese to hard cheese to butter and more. The state’s cheeses have a great following, and I’m proud of that.”
    Wisconsin cheesemakers and dairy producers took first, second and third place in the following categories: American Original - Colby - made from cow’s milk, American Original - Brick Cheese - made from cow’s milk, Flavored Cheeses - Feta with Flavor Added – all milks, Flavored Reduced Fat Cheese with Flavor Added – all milks, Marinated Cheeses – cheeses marinated in liquids and ingredients – made from cow’s milk, and Butter - Salted Butter with or without cultures - made from cow’s milk.
    “I know many Wisconsin cheesemakers, and they put their heart and soul into making cheese,” Buholzer said. “A lot of factories are still family-owned, and many are multi-generational. I’m proud of how well our state did in this competition because it showcases that our cheesemakers really are that good and can compete with anyone on any stage.”
    Other Wisconsin cheesemakers collecting multiple awards include Joe and Joey Widmer of Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa who received five awards for Wisconsin Original cheeses, including brick and Colby; BelGioioso of Green Bay with seven awards; Deer Creek of Sheboygan with seven awards; Hook’s Cheese of Mineral Point with seven awards; Maple Leaf Cheese of Monroe with six awards; Nasonville Dairy of Marshfield with six awards; Emmi Roth of Monroe with five awards; Marieke Gouda of Thorp with three awards and Renard’s Cheese of Algoma with three awards.
    “Wisconsin makes the very best cheese,” Fanning said, “and winning these awards is proof of that.”