Say cheese: Area dairies earn top honors at world championships

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Katjusa Cisar/The Monroe Times
Friday, March 9, 2012
— The best feta in the world comes from Monroe, as judged this week by an international team of judges at the 2012 World Championship Cheese Contest.

The best havarti and white Muenster in the world come from Brodhead, products of Decatur Dairy.

The dairy on County F west of Brodhead was one of nearly 20 cheesemakers in Green and Lafayette counties that took top honors at the competition, which ended Wednesday evening at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison.

Two Decatur Dairy cheeses were finalists for the 2012 championship, awarded to a Dutch Vermeer Gouda. Cheeses from Switzerland were judged as best-in-show runners-up.

Brodhead cheesemaker Steve Settler of Decatur Dairy won best of class for his havarti cheese, while the dairy's pepper havarti took best of class in the pepper flavored cheeses. The dairy's dill havarti took second place in the flavored havarti class. Decatur's para fundir, or white muenster, also won best of class.

A Wisconsin cheesemaker hasn't won best in show in more than 10 years, according to Jeanne Carpenter, founder of Wisconsin Cheese Originals.

But the state's cheesemakers still made a strong showing. Klondike Cheese Co. of Monroe won the most with four best-of-class prizes and one third prize.

"We've never won four firsts at the world (contest)," said Klondike's Adam Buholzer. "It really reflects on the whole company and our suppliers."

Monroe's W&W Dairy's queso fresco (fresh Hispanic cheese) also took top honors.

David Webster of W&W Dairy started making queso fresco in 2004 to fill a hungry niche in the market, Hispanics, who "eat a tremendous amount of cheese compared to other groups," he said. "They use it in every meal, all day long."

"An old partner of mine was actually Hispanic, and he got us into the Mexican market," Webster said.

He now runs W&W with Kevin Wyss and James Curran, with cheesemakers Wyatt Webster and Kurt and Craig Wyss overseeing production.

What makes their queso fresco different is "all-natural whole milk," he said, with no added oils to cheapen the quality. The cheese holds its shape at high temperatures, he added, making it good for burritos.

Buholzer also credits high-quality milk for his award-winning feta. Klondike sources milk from Wisconsin dairies in a 45-mile radius.

"We got into feta in the early- to mid-'80s," he said. "We feel like we've got a great recipe."

Buholzer said the trick to a tangy feta that's crumbly, not mushy, is a low pH level. Most feta has a pH of 4.4 to 4.6. (Muenster, by comparison, usually comes in at 5.2 to 5.3).

Tuning in on the right pH levels is all about consistency, and Klondike employees bring it with an overall "quality mindset."

"We've got a great group of employees," Buholzer said.

Last updated: 7:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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