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World Championship Cheese

The Martha Stewart Show, April 2008

A 77-pound block of Gruyere recently took first place in the 27th Biennial World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, Wisconsin. It beat out 1,940 other cheeses and butters sent in from 20 different countries and was deemed 98.82 percent perfect by a panel of 22 judges.

To score the cheese, every judge had a score sheet from which they deduct points rather than reward points. A perfect score is 100 percent, and the judging is based on flavor, body, and texture. The judges are only required to record the percentage based on taste -- they are not required to record data specifically as to why a cheese was not perfect.

Submitted by Michael Sycher, a cheese maker from the Swiss Alps, the winning Gruyere was made in the small Swiss village of Wasen. Michael is a one-man operation, being one of the smallest cheese makers in Switzerland. This award-winning cheese will now be auctioned off at the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association Champion Cheese Auction at the end of April, and is expected to receive about $10,000. All money raised benefits the nonprofit contest, member-education programs, and scholarship grants.

A Gorgonzola made by CERPL cheese makers in Bologna, Italy, took second place in the cheese contest with a score of 98.56 percent. The main requirement for Gorgonzola is that it must be made from whole-pasteurized cow's milk that comes from the provinces of Piedmont or Lombardy in Italy. This specific cheese is aged 120 days, comes from Novara in Piedmont, and has been made by the Leonardi family for three generations.

The Emmentaler Swiss cheese made by Bernhard Naf of Guntershausen, Switzerland placed third with a score of 98.42 percent. Aged from four to 14 months, this delicious cheese is formed into 200-pound wheels.

When selecting a cheese to eat at home, be sure to go to a place that you can trust has quality cheese and good seasonal suggestions. Also, be sure to look for any visual defects, such as mold under the wrapper, or soft spots that shouldn't be there. It is always preferable to buy freshly cut cheese and to get a taste before you buy.

Special thanks to Rob Kaufelt of Murray's Cheese in New York -- the only place in the United States that carries the award-winning Le Gruyere -- for sharing this information.

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