Wisconsin prepares to crown US cheese champion

Brick cheese packages are prepared for shipping at Widmer’s Cheese Cellars on June 27, 2016 in Theresa, Wisconsin. (AFP pic)

CHICAGO: What makes one piece of cheese better than another?

Grim-faced judges squeezed, smelled and tasted thousands of samples Tuesday at the United States Championship Cheese Contest to answer that subjective question.

Cheesemakers from dozens of states gathered in Wisconsin — dubbed “America’s Dairyland” — to compete over a three-day period.

Rows of blocks and wheels of cheese were set out on long tables in the lobby of Lambeau Field, the NFL football stadium in the city of Green Bay.

At stake was the crown of best cheese in the country — decided every two years.

“It’s not rocket science, but you want to make sure you trust your gut,” said judge Laura Laehn, during a live-streamed question and answer session.

Judges, including cheese graders, buyers, dairy science professors and researchers, must sift through 2,500 products from 35 states. Cheeses can be aged up to three years.

In addition to taste, the judges were considering how a cheese looks, smells and is packaged.

Richard Guggisberg, the 2015 cheese champion who is competing again this year in the Swiss cheese category, said winning is “a wonderful, fantastic feeling.”

The last champion in 2017 was the Wisconsin-made Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano, which won the top prize by two-tenths of one point.