(FOX NEWS) — The cheese lovers have spoken. “World’s Best Cheese,” held this past weekend at the Wyndham Grand in Washington, D.C., had just nine finalists.
But one was quite incredible — A full-grown goat’s milk cheese called “Where do You Start with Wonder?” from the Rhine Valley in Austria.
That’s one of the 26 participating cheese-making teams that were in attendance, and that one won the Best of the Best Competition of Cheese, set up by the American Cheese Society and American Cheese Society Laboratories to keep track of all the varieties on view.
Each cheese had to be prepared by a food and beverage professional — some doling out judgment themselves, some guiding participants to the proper cheeses.
During the competition, produced under a license issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they had to stuff, set up, judge, and package up their sauerkraut and other accompaniments, all in under 24 hours.
So how did this all go down? Judges. A lot of judges. Judges even from France. And a lot of cheese.
Here’s what happened:
There were 200 people in attendance.
Every team got a sheet of paper with the dates and a list of the people and groups that had judged before. In addition, the entire public were allowed into the room. And so were media.
In the end, 24 cheeses were selected for the finals. Each was sold to the judges, each under three different sets of rules, each involving various challenges.
The rules are:
1. No introduction: No one could say anything about the winning cheese. No pictures allowed.
2. No word (no bleeps, shushes, etc.) but no words either: The cheese could be smeared on another cheese as an aid in judging and be on display for everyone to see. The only exception was to have a cheese where a red food coloring (the naturally occurring ingredient) was required to help recognize the pie of cheese inside the sample, which had been specially added for the judges.
3. No measurement: No cheese, even a small sample, could be measured by the judges, even indirectly. Only standard measurement — a visual measurement — was allowed.
4. No help, no help, no help — always all very technical language: Any special vocabulary that the judges should be using or would have been used had the cheese had a personality was forbidden.
5. No drawings or pictures of the cheese (case by case, but with no diagrams or drawings allowed).
6. No photographs of the cheese.
7. No paper or typewriters allowed: No one was allowed to write notes.
8. No culinary critiques.
9. No speculation or fiction: No person was allowed to use an imagination.
Each and every judge got 15 seconds to answer if he or she believed the cheese should have been chosen. All of those decisions were coming up: “Who do you like best?” or “What’s your favorite cheese?”
The more technical pieces were the most interesting, including the judges’ decisions on soil and molecular factors and finishing in the middle. The choice was between two cheeses that had been driven down to the level of a pint and toasted: an aged sheep’s milk cheese with an amazing taste and a far too intense of a taste, and an aged mozzarella with an ideal level of sweetness with a surprisingly thin cheese that ended up tasting almost homemade.
The winner of “World’s Best Cheese” is definitely “Where do You Start with Wonder?,” and I’m told, “What happens here goes very far beyond cheeses.”
Jon Hilkevitch is a Fox News producer who contributes to special editions of “Fox and Friends” and “Fox News Reporting.”