Joining the cream of the crop in dairy tasting

Fredonia native helps Clemson team earn high honors in national contest

MADELINE WASKIEWICZ, 21, of Fredonia, sported her Clemson University colors at a recent dairy tasting competition. The Grafton High School grad is a member of the school’s nationally ranked team. Photo courtesy of Madeline Waskiewicz
Ozaukee Press Staff

Madeline Waskiewicz literally can’t stomach dairy products. But she is an expert when it comes to tasting them.

The 21-year-old Fredonia native and Grafton High School graduate is a member of the Clemson University Dairy Products Evaluation Team, which came in second overall in the national tasting competition held in Milwaukee in April, taking first as a team in milk tasting.

While Waskiewicz didn’t win individual honors this year, she finished in the top 10 nationally in milk tasting and in 2017 she was the national Cheddar cheese tasting champion.

Ironically, Waskiewicz discovered two years ago she is allergic to dairy products.

Waskiewicz, the daughter of Bonnie and Larry Waskiewicz, is going into her senior year at Clemson majoring in food science.She did not grow up on a farm but was attracted to the subject in high school, Waskiewicz said.

“I had an amazing chemistry teacher,  Mrs. (Melissa) Staude,” she said. “She taught AP chemistry class when I was a junior and formed my love for chemistry. When I started looking at majors (for college), I saw how food science combines the culinary and chemistry.”

She opted to go to Clemson in South Carolina and was recruited for the dairy tasting team as a sophomore by one of the professors who coaches the team, she said.

The fact she is from Wisconsin didn’t hurt, she said.

“I think that is why I was originally asked to be on the team,” she said. “They assumed I had consumed a lot of dairy in my life. But you have to really have a good palate” to make the team.

In competitions, the team tastes milk, Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter. Waskiewicz’s favorite is Cheddar cheese.

“They have us focus a lot on milk because it is the base, but I never drink milk,” she said. “Cheddar cheese is fun. I like the aged, bitter ones.”

Waskiewicz said her experience has helped her learn to fully use her senses and the different aspects of the tongue.

It also affects her as a consumer, she said. “It changes the way you look at it. I’m allergic to dairy but when I did eat it, I went through this period where I just wanted to eat cottage cheese and know which ones I like,” she said. 

She has to be careful to not review food when she’s out with friends, Waskiewicz said.

“I try not to bring down my friends” by critiquing the food, she said. “It used to drive my boyfriend crazy, like if we went out for ice cream and I’d (give it a score) and say, ‘This is an icy four,’ and  he’d say, ‘Why can’t you just enjoy it?’”

She’s also used her talents to give shopping tips to her mother, she said.

Judging competitions are a rigorous exercise in which contestants have 35 minutes for each category to test eight different products.

Competitors try to match their score with those given to the same products by professional taste testers who work in the dairy industry.

The Clemson team is in two competitions each year, a regional in Madison and the national in Milwaukee. 

It’s similar to a wine-tasting event, Waskiewicz said. Tables are set up with eight containers of milk, for instance.

“You lift up the container and smell it, which can give you a lot of knowledge, you pour some into a little cup, pour into your mouth and spit it out and gauge the different flavors or off-notes” and cleanse the palate afterward with water.

“There’s a lot of tasting, spitting, tasting, spitting,” she said. 

There can be a lot of noise, which can be distracting. And like any competition, the contestants are aware of what each other is doing.

“Sometimes it really gets in your head, like people do different things and smack their mouths and have different habits. And some people finish very quickly, and then you second-guess yourself.”

You also “taste to the judge,” she said.

“One year, the judge was all about the whey (in cottage cheese),” she said.

Some competitors swallow the product. but Waskiewicz says different taste buds are utilized when spitting it out.

“All milk has a cooked flavor, the more you can taste it the worse the score. You have to memorize all the possible slight variations,” she said.

Texture also is a consideration, especially with cottage cheese and ice cream.

“You mash the curds against the roof of your mouth with your tongue,” she said. “With ice cream you look for ice particles or a grainy texture, which is the sugar.”

There are regional differences too, she said. “In Wisconsin, all the milk tastes slightly like corn where in the South it’s more grassy,” she said.

With Cheddar, you start with the texture and feel of the cheese.

“You have to break it and form it into a ball to see if it is crumbly like corkboard or pasty or sticking to your fingers or does it break or snap. You don’t grade on texture but it is an indicator of flavor,” Waskiewicz said.

“Then you throw away the ball. Nobody wants to eat a piece of cheese you’ve been mushing in your hands.” 

Waskiewicz said she plans to continue her schooling and get a master’s degree. Besides the academic degree, she hopes to become a master flavorist, which will require her to do an apprenticeship for seven years.

Perhaps with the goal of being a dairy tasting judge, she said.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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