Wisconsin proves its dairy dominance in national championships
Most Wisconsinites have learned to embrace the nickname Cheeseheads, and that pride may have been just enough to allow the state to dominate last week’s U.S. Cheese Championships.
Appropriately, this year’s competition — which drew a record 2,303 cheeses, butters and yogurts from 33 states — was held in Green Bay, in the shadow of Lambeau Field.
The competition has been held every other year since 1981, and this year was hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.
Cheese makers from America’s Dairyland were named the top overall winners and earned 55% of the medals in 101 cheese categories. Wisconsin had 58 category winners.
Taking part in the Badger State’s cheese domination was Cedar Valley Cheese in the Town of Fredonia.
The company’s “Second Shift Team” earned a bronze medal in the smoked provolone category, with a score of 98.65. That tally was just .10 out of first place.
Members of the Cedar Valley team included shift supervisors Kyle Yekenewicz and Tim Powers, who are both cheese makers, and Jeff Nett.
Nett is the son of Ken Nett, a retired master cheese maker.
The team will receive its medal at a ceremony on April 13.
Jeff Hiller, the company’s president and a third-generation cheese maker, said it is gratifying that Cedar Valley did well in the national competition.
“We didn’t do anything special in making the cheese for the contest. We just picked a day that we produced the smoked provolone and saved the sample to send out with the proper age,” Hiller said.
“Provolone develops flavor with age. The enzymes start giving the cheese flavor around 30 or so days. The older the cheese gets, the stronger the flavor.”
He said the bronze-medal entry was about 42 days old when it was judged.
Winning best in class in the smoked provolone category was Agropur of Lake Norden, S.D.
While the national competition draws attention to local cheese makers, Cedar Valley has been quietly catering to the cheese-loving public since 1947, when it was founded by Ralph Hiller.
His grandson, Jeff, has overseen the continual expansion of the company’s production facilities at the corner of Highway 57 and Jay Road since taking the helm in 1988.
Central to the cheese factory are the six stainless steel milk silos, each holding 60,000 gallons.
According to the company, it produces more than 36 million pounds of cheese annually, specializing in white cheeses such as mozzarella and provolone. Some of that product is directly exported to Canada and Mexico.
Cedar Valley receives milk daily from more than 140 dairy farmers scattered around eight counties.
It processes more than 1.2 million pounds — or 141,000 gallons — of milk each day to make its cheeses. The company’s unofficial workforce includes 18,500 cows to produce that volume of milk.
Dealing with a byproduct of that cheese making, 23 semis carry whey to a processing plant each day.
The company notes that 150,000 gallons of well water are also used in the production process.
Cedar Valley is no stranger to success in competitions, having earned the Seal of Excellence at the Wisconsin State Fair five times for its string cheese. Its provolone and mozzarella cheeses are consistent ribbon winners.
Keeping the local flavor, string cheeses produced by Cesar’s Cheese of Random Lake earned first and third-place honors with scores of 99.5 and 99.2.
Just a little bit farther north, the Plymouth-based Satori Co. was named the Big Cheese of the competition for its reserve black pepper BelaVitano.
Image Information: CEDAR VALLEY CHEESE was part of the Wisconsin domination during last week’s U.S. Cheese Championships. The Town of Fredonia business won a bronze medal in the competition for its smoked provolone.Ozaukee Press file photo