The world’s best cheese for 2022 is revealed at awards in Wales

Newport, Wales (CNN) — When you gather 4,434 cheeses from 42 countries in one room to find out which one is the best, there’s inevitably a sense of excitement in the air. Inevitably there is also a very, very strong smell.

That heady, almost intoxicating mix of ripe dairy products and friendly competition swirled around a UK conference center on Wednesday as 250 international judges sniffed, poked and prodded along the cheese-moaning tables to decide which should take the crown at the 2022 Edition of the World Cheese Awards.

This year’s winner, a gruyere from Switzerland, was finally chosen by a top-tier jury after the field had been whittled down first to 98 “super gold” champions and then to 16 finalists.

The judges described Le Gruyère AOP surchoix, introduced by Swiss cheesemaker Vorderfultigen and affineur (refiner) Gourmino, as a “truly refined artisanal cheese” that melts on the tongue and has notes of herbs, fruits and leather. “A cheese with a lot of taste and bouquet”.

Cured cheese, Gruyère is lightly crumbled and made from raw cow’s milk.

In second place was a Gorgonzola Dolce DOP, a soft, blue cheese made by De’ Magi from Italy.

Le Gruyère AOP surchoix is ​​the new world number one in the world.  1 cheese

Le Gruyère AOP surchoix is ​​the new world number one in the world. 1 cheese

Guild of good food

Pick a winner

So how do you choose a winning cheese from a cast of thousands?

The hard work began shortly after 10am at the International Conference Center on the outskirts of the Welsh city of Newport, when judges trooped into the main courtroom with efforts that broke the lungs of a Welsh male voice choir.

After a few minutes spent unpacking, unwrapping and unchaining, each of the 98 court tables was transformed into a spicy and varied topography.

Gigantic wheels of wax sat next to small soft goat logs. There were towering blues, flat creamy medallions and towering slabs of cheddar. There were cheeses shaped like witches’ hats and flowers, cheeses wrapped in nettle leaves or covered in ash. There were plain, simple cheeses. There were cake-like cheeses, elaborately garnished with fruit.

There were whites, oranges, blues, even purples.

At least one cheese looked like it was painted by abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.

Blind tasting

world cheese awards-20

Cheeses came in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Barry Neild/CNN

All the cheeses were tasted blind, although with a team of judges chosen from an army of cheesemakers, marketers, writers and other assorted experts, many knew more or less what they were sinking their teeth into. A few famous commercial cheeses could be spotted a mile away.

At Table 14, judges Danielle Bliss and Philippe Dumain got off to a shaky start with a disappointing Brie-style product.

“It’s very one-dimensional,” Bliss said, typing the scores into an iPad. “It might be good for cooking or baking, but it’s not the best cheese in the world. I’m looking for a cheese that takes me on a journey.”

The judges were tasked with ranking each of their 50 cheeses based on visual appearance, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel. The best were awarded gold, silver or bronze status and each panel of judges selected one as “super gold”.

world cheese awards-4

Judges Kazuaki Tomiyama and Tom Chatfield taste the cheeses at Table 18.

Barry Neild/CNN

At Table 18, Tom Chatfield and Kazuaki Tomiyama were giving a good product to a mold-ripened goat’s cheese and preparing for more disappointments.

“He seems to have lost some of his integrity,” Chatfield said, before cutting him off. “It’s a little too ripe, you can smell the ammonia, but considering it had to travel all the way, I’m going to be charitable.” After conversing with Tomiyama, he is awarded 18 out of a maximum of 35.

“If we had seen it two or three days earlier, it would have been a much better cheese.”

Next, on Table 18, is something resembling a flowery fig and described by its growers as an “enzymatic coagulation.” Despite this, it tastes good.

“He’s very young and very clean,” says Chatfield as the pair of judges score him 29 points. “Some cheeses have a song that goes on. This is a 15-second one, but not a full orchestra. Some cheeses will keep singing.”

Commercial benefits

world cheese awards-9

A Ukrainian delegation offered samples of Ukrainian cheese.

Barry Neild/CNN

Because the room is filled with cheese and people who love cheese, there’s an upbeat mood during the early judging stages that cuts through the noise emanating from the contest entries.

However, the World Cheese Awards have a serious side.

John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food which organized the 34th annual event in partnership with the Welsh Government, says the win can propel a small artisan cheesemaker into the big time.

He cites the case of the Norwegian cheese producer Ostegården, which succeeded a few years ago when the owner was about to retire. The win inspired his son to change his career plans and return to the family farm, eventually turning a small operation into a major exporter.

“Commercial success is important,” Farrand told CNN midway through the morning’s tasting sessions. “But it’s also a big pat on the back. Winning means something to them and their team that’s as good as any commercial benefit.”

Hosting the event is also a big deal, Farrand added, with Wales hoping it will help highlight its home-grown cheeses and wider food industry.

It’s a spotlight that was originally supposed to fall on Ukraine this year. The country had to postpone its hosting turn due to the Russian invasion.

This did not prevent 39 Ukrainian cheeses from entering the competition.

Natali Kahadi of Ukrainian cheese distributor Ardis, which presented entries and set up a stall on the sidelines of the event, said the conflict was taking a heavy toll on cheese makers.

“But we’re still working,” he told CNN. “We don’t stop our production. We fight our war with cheese.”

“Bite and Texture”

world cheese awards-13

The best cheeses were awarded gold, silver and bronze status.

Barry Neild/CNN

Back at the judging tables, potential winners begin to emerge as the morning progresses. In Table 61, Keith Kendrick and Shumana Palit have identified two gold winners.

“Everything was very well in balance,” says Palit, touching a very simple-looking cow’s milk cheese. “It had a good mouthfeel, it was wonderfully complex, and most importantly, we agreed.”

At Table 95, Emma Young, Ben Ticehurst and Matt Lardie – three experts with over 30 years’ experience in the industry between them – were looking at a couple of textured Spanish cheeses, one of which would be their ‘super gold’ winner

“This is beautiful, very fruity and nice,” says Young after using a cheese grater to extract a sample of the former. “It has a little bit of bite and texture. It tastes like strawberry shortcake.”

It is the second cheese, with the printed patterns of the basket in which it was matured, that moves on to the next round. “It’s perfect,” Young said. “It’s an incredible example of Mancheque.”

High cheese

world cheese awards-6

The cheeses were assessed for appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel.

Barry Neild/CNN

Meanwhile, at Table 70, where another ammonia-tinged cheese has the judges reaching for apple slices to cleanse the palate, the task of tasting dozens of dairy products was starting to take its toll.

“After eating 20 cheeses, you start to sink,” said Dutch judge Gijs Dankers. Other judges mentioned experiencing a “cheese high” and “the sweats.”

Kris Lloyd, an Australian cheesemaker and judge on Table 17, despaired at the quality of some of the entries. “You can tell when someone starts out with really good milk and doesn’t mess with it,” he said. “But we’ve seen a lot of messes this morning.”

Beyond the court tables, Jenny Lee, who recently started producing cheese with her husband in Torpenhow, a farming area in the rolling green hills of the UK’s rural North Cumbria region, looked on with anticipation.

He hoped his cheeses would have done justice to the milk produced by his “hybrid” herd of Jersey, Friesian and Norwegian Red cows.

“It’s brilliant,” he said. “We feel like this cheese world is so kind and so supportive, we’re so excited to be here.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post ‘Stranger Things’: Vecna’s house listed for $1.5 million
Next post Watch: Al Franken explains how Trump’s mockery could be motivating for some Republicans