The Associated Press April 13, 2012, 09:59AM ET

Champion cheese sells for $8,400 at Wis. auction

A 24-pound Dutch cheese named the best in the world at an international competition held in Madison, Wis. last month has been auctioned off for $8,400, or $350 per pound.

The wheel of Vermeer, a low-fat Gouda-style cheese, scored a mild upset at the World Championship Cheese Contest, beating out two cheeses from Switzerland and preventing the Swiss from capturing a fourth straight title. It was sold as part of an auction of gold-medal cheeses that raises money to help educate cheesemakers.

The Vermeer was made by Friesland Campina, a company based in Steenderen, Netherlands. The plant's cheesemakers were scheduled to receive their award at a ceremony Thursday evening.

The winning bidder was Hoogwegt US Inc., a company based in Lake Forest, Ill., that supplies dairy products to industrial manufacturers. A message left with the company was not immediately returned.

While $350 might sound like a lot to spend on a pound of cheese, it's only half of what one of last year's gold-medal winners, a peppercorn cheddar, sold for at auction, said Jane Cisler, the marketing coordinator of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

The Vermeer wasn't even the most expensive cheese sold at this year's auction. A 32-pound set of three gold-medal cheeses produced by Decatur Dairy Inc. in Brodhead went for $500 per pound, or a total of $16,000. It included a Havarti and a pepper-flavored cheese. The same buyer, R. Mueller Service and Equipment in Monroe, paid $350 per pound for 20 pounds of a mozzarella made with part-skim milk.

An email sent to a company spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

John Umhoefer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said buyers at the private auction generally include those who make cheese supplies and components, as well as people who sell cheese. The auction raised more than $140,000 to help cheesemakers develop their technical and management skills and provide scholarships for the next generation of cheese producers, Umhoefer said.

The World Championship Cheese Contest is held every two years in Madison. This year's contest featured more than 2,500 entries from 24 countries.

U.S. cheesemakers dominated the competition, with gold medals in 55 of the 82 categories. Switzerland was second with seven gold medals, followed by Canada with six and Denmark with five.

America's dominance was led by a strong effort from Wisconsin, which accounted for 30 of the nation's 55 gold medals. New York won nine golds, while California and Vermont each had three.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.


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