Swiss Gruyere Crowned Top Cheese

The Gruyere from cheesemaker Cedric Fragniere in Kirchberg, Switzerland, was crowned best cheese at the World Championship Cheese Contest. John Jaeggi, the cheese industry and applications program coordinator for the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, discusses what makes a top cheese.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

What the Westminster Dog Show is for a spunky Yorkshire terrier or a Great Dane, the World Championship Cheese Contest is to a fragrant gorgonzola or a Tallegio, and yesterday, Best Cheese in Show was crowned in Madison, Wisconsin.

Unidentified Man: The World Champion Cheese for 2010 is the Gruyere.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BLOCK: The gruyere from cheesemaker Cedric Fragniere in Switzerland edged out its fellow Swiss, the smear-ripened hard cheese Andeerer Traum for top honors and a $1,000 prize.

More than 2,300 cheeses were competing in 77 categories, and tasting his way to the best of the best in the championship was judge John Jaeggi. He's with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, and he joins us from Madison. Welcome.

JOHN JAEGGI: Thank you.

BLOCK: What do you think that winning gruyere had that maybe the, you know, the bandaged cheddar or the feta did not?

JAEGGI: First of all, as far as the presentation, when a judge looks at cheese, the first thing is the sight, and overall, it had a very nice presentation. It was nice and even, even color. And then when you feel the body and actually feel the cheese, it had a very nice texture, and then the in the cheese judging, what we do is we then pull what we call a plug or a little round cube of cheese that's pulled out of the center. And then we taste that cube, and then we taste it, and we see what flavor attributes it had. And it had a lot of good, characteristic, gruyere Swiss-type cheese notes that we were looking for.

BLOCK: You know, I've seen pictures of you judges at work, and you're, when you're doing the sniff test, you're getting your face right in there.

JAEGGI: Yes. We - again, you know, you want to get that odor because that kind of tells us a little bit what we're going to expect when we taste the cheese. We want that nice odor. In the case of the gruyere, you want that nice odor in the case of the gruyere. You want that nice, surface-ripened odor to it, but yet you don't want it overpowering.

And those types of cheeses, when that cheese breaks down, it becomes very ammoniated or has an overall sensation of ammonia.

BLOCK: Well, you have just tons and tons of cheese to be tasting in that final round. How do you keep those flavors straight?

JAEGGI: What we do is we'll chew on it for about 20 to 30 seconds, and then unfortunately, at that point, you have to spit it out.

BLOCK: Really?

JAEGGI: Yes, you have to because you could imagine if you sample 30, 40 cheese in a morning, you know, how full you would get, and your senses would become inundated with all these different flavors, and it becomes very hard to judge the following cheeses.

BLOCK: So you've got a spittoon there like a wine tasting?

JAEGGI: Yes, we do.

BLOCK: Sounds like a fun days work to me.

JAEGGI: Yes, it is. But some of the samples are hard to get rid of because they're so good, you hate to spit them out.

BLOCK: Okay, I have to ask you. You're from Wisconsin. The championship is held in Wisconsin. I spent a lot of time looking at these categories, way too much time looking at these categories today. How is it possible that the cheese rated the top parmesan was from Denmark, Wisconsin?

JAEGGI: What it is, it is a worldwide contest. For whatever reason, the Italians and the French are rather lightly represented at this. I guess, to be honest, it's probably for them a situation where there is a lot of stiff competition here. So, I mean, it might be a case of where it's a no-win situation. I'm not sure.

BLOCK: You don't think they'd be winning? That's some trash talk from Wisconsin I'm hearing right now.

JAEGGI: Oh, no, no. They have high-quality cheeses, actually.

BLOCK: Mr. Jaeggi, how long does it take after this competition is over for you to get your appetite back for cheese?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JAEGGI: To be honest with you, the evening after it was done, I had cheesy potatoes. So it didn't take me long.

BLOCK: What kind of cheese was on them?

JAEGGI: It was a cheddar cheese that was on the cheesy potatoes. But, you know, it doesn't take long. We can go back and taste it again quite easily.

BLOCK: Well, John Jaeggi, thanks for talking to us.

JAEGGI: You bet.

BLOCK: John Jaeggi was one of the judges at the World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison, Wisconsin.

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