Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Results are In!

On Monday, March 5, I sat down with some members of the Dairy Business Innovation Center to discuss dairy goats in Wisconsin. It just so happened that this was the same day that the World Championship Cheese Competition was open to the public. I did a quick jaunt around the judging floor, munched a sample of some really good mozzarella before getting in touch with Jeanie, Becky (of Edelweiss) and Norm for a quick chat. 

 Click for a larger size

 The judging floor. Kinda seemed like a factory (what with all the white coats and hats) mixed with 4H judging. I would like to see them implement more of a "Dog Show" mentality, where the owners of the cheese parade their wheels around before the crowd. Of course they have 2,500 entries to get through, and some cheese makers (large companies) probably entered upwards of 100 different cheeses so maybe that wouldn't work.

 Wheels laid out pre-judging.

 Public tasting is not the main focus of the event. Still, it was really nice that they did provide a small array of high-class cheeses for sampling.

 Ok so this is a terrible shot of the goat cheese judging table. The man you cannot see behind the guy in the red hat is Steve Zeng from Langston University in Oklahoma. Much of the dairy goat research going on today can be traced back to him and the Langston Goat Research Extension.

After our initial introductions (in which I found that Jeanie and I each have a Cleveland, OH connection), we started talking about the Dairy Business Center. We talked a little about the low points for dairy farmers in the ‘80-90s, when the population of farmers was aging, the price for cow's milk was low, and most cheese produced in Wisconsin was considered “commodity cheese.” “No one back then used the word Artisan,” Jeanie pointed out.  In 2004 the DBIC was former as a way to help farmers find ways to create “value added” endeavors, such as artisan cheeses, to their farms.  

The DBC is there to help all dairy associated endeavors (goat, cow, sheep etc.), and recognizes the importance of  producers, dairy processors, state and federal government and industry leaders all working together. It is not a "brick and mortar" building, but a nonprofit organization of experienced consultants that can be called upon to help develop businesses for a lower cost than if the owners just went out on their own.

I found out Wisconsin is the only state that has a sheep milk coop  (I always wanted to write about the cooperative efforts in Wisconsin, I really feel they add to the tapestry of our history. It is The Year of the Coop, so maybe I will...) Wisconsin has the most goats in the country (always in competition with Texas and Iowa for milk producing herds.) We have some of the the largest plants for processing goat milk. We also make “mixed milk” cheese – mixing cow and goat milk, for instance, to make a different blended cheese. We are far behind the Europeans, both in our goat stock and our cheese, but that is to be expected with the long history of European dairies.

Goat farming is a fairly low cost endeavor, vs. cow dairying for people to get into, and the quality of artisan goat cheese has skyrocketed. Younger farmers are getting into the business (or back into the business) as promoting local foods, or going organic has risen in the media.  Norm made sure to point out that there are still real challenges. Farming is a lot of work, and this cannot be understated. There are hotspots of goat markets in Wisconsin, and finding a market is very important for the continued strength of goat milk.  Also, the quality of milk is very important. If members of your goat herd are not producing, farmers have to make the choice to cull animals, which can be difficult but necessary to remain financially strong.

We finished our discussion as Becky and Norm had to run off to meet some farmers they had been working with who happened to be in Madison for the cheese competition. Jeanie and I talked briefly about meat goats in Wisconsin, and I will hopefully be investigating that in the future.  

Back to the cheese floor, the World Championship Cheese Contest, though some people may feel it is weighted towards our fair state since it is hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers (and we do have a whole organization dedicated to artisan cheese in our state, as well as being home to the Cheese Underground blog) is an impartial contest. Click on the first image for info on the judging process. The contest, which included judges from 40 countries sampling entries from all over the world that compete in 82 categories (not counting Best of Show), was covered by media from as far away as New Zealand.  

Some of the most interesting results to me included a number of Wisconsin cheeses making it into the "sweet 16" finals PDF (alas, none of them goat), along with a Spanish goat cheese. Montchevre and Carr Valley Cheese both made good showings in the goat milk cheese categories, placing in the top 3 in a number of categories, and (in a rare departure from my goat alliance) a special shout out goes to the small Hidden Springs Creamery for placing 2nd overall in the Flavored Soft & Semi-soft Sheep's Milk Cheeses (I love their little sheep-y label).

The overall winner was a Dutch Vermeer, made by FrieslandCampina. The winner will be honored at the International Cheese Technology Expo next month.

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