By Joel Penhorwood
Guggisberg Cheese of Millersburg, Ohio has topped the U.S. Champion Cheese Contest once again.
The 2019 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest put the Guggisberg’s baby Swiss entry at the very top at the annual competition’s gathering this past week. The company also won in 2015 with their Swiss entry.
No matter which way you cut it, it’s an extremely prestigious honor, said Ursula Guggisberg-Bennett.
“This is an absolutely huge honor for us,” she said. “It’s one thing to win the top of your category, which we won first place in the Swiss category and then first place in the baby Swiss category. But then to win the grand champion overall over 2,555 entries it’s just an absolute phenomenal win for us. We’re so, so excited.”
The company continues to take pride in their northeast Ohio settings, saying the unique mineral deposits of the surrounding soil add a unique feature to their final dairy products.
“It’s definitely a collective effort. It starts with quality milk,” Guggisberg-Bennett said. “We have wonderful producers — you can’t make quality cheese without quality milk.”
In addition to thanking their dedicated staff, she also highlighted the unique history behind their cheese, particularly that of baby Swiss.
“It’s an art and a science combined with experience that was brought back from Switzerland from Alfred and Margaret Guggisberg,” she said. “Their son Richard has really kept the high standards of quality. We take pride in that.
“Alfred and Margaret came over from Switzerland. Alfred came over in the late 40s. He had a lot of experience making cheese in the Alps. We are in the largest Amish community in the world and the Amish were looking for a place to bring their milk.
“Alfred perfected his premium swiss recipe and it was very much loved by the locals. One thing he noticed was the pallet over here was a little bit different than that of Europe as far as what they want their Swiss to taste like. In America, they don’t really appreciate the strong, robust flavors that they do in Europe. So he set out to create a milder version of his traditional Swiss. He worked and experimented and came up with the recipe for baby Swiss. That’s how it came about. His wife Margaret looked at it and noticed it was smaller in shape — it had smaller eyes, and she said, ‘Oh, it’s a baby Swiss.’ That’s how baby Swiss came about. That story means a lot to us and it means a lot to have won the grand champion with that particular cheese.”
With the strong history, it’s important the company selected the right cheese to take to Wisconsin. It’s not an easy prospect, said Guggisberg-Bennett, since the entry itself has to be completely intact for the judges. A number of considerations go into the judge’s selections, including flavor, texture, color, appearance, and much more.
“It is pretty difficult. You want to do your best in picking the cheese that you think is going to look great as well as taste great,” she said. “Unfortunately, there’s not really any way to know 100% until the judging itself. We can’t cut into the cheese or anything like that. It’s difficult, but we’re excited we chose right.”
Guggisberg is the third cheesemaker now to win the U.S. Champion Cheese title twice. Marieke Gouda in Thorp, Wisc. took home second and third place.