Dozens of artisan cheese makers from the United States are currently eyeing their best wheels, chunks and wedges in anticipation of entering the 2011 World Cheese Awards, to be held this fall in Birmingham, England. The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) is doing its part to encourage stateside participation by sponsoring a trophy for the “Best U.S. Cow’s Milk Cheese,” a special recognition for the top-placing American cheese. USDEC sponsorship, supported by U.S. dairy producers through their checkoff program, along with other USDEC market development programs and activities, help drive global demand for U.S. cheese and other dairy products by enhancing the quality image of U.S. supply in overseas markets.

“When artisan cheesemakers bring home gold medals it provides a halo effect on the reputation of our cheese industry,” says Angélique Hollister, director of cheese and manufactured products, USDEC. “That provides a boost to the efforts of all U.S. cheesemakers who are engaged in the global market.”

Industry-wide, U.S. cheese exports continue to grow. In the first seven months of 2011, overseas cheese sales were up 41 percent from last year, with sales representing 5 percent of U.S. cheese production, providing profitable outlets for U.S. dairy producers and cheese makers alike.

At this year’s contest, U.S. contenders will be pitted against offerings from artisans around the globe on Nov. 23 in a competitive judging at the BBC Good Food Show Winter. The deadline for entering is Oct. 14, but cheeses will be shipped in early November.

The 2010 competition drew more than 2,600 entries from around the globe, including 472 from 60 companies in the United States. Of those, 79 U.S. cheeses received awards, including 29 gold medals for best in category. Last year’s USDEC award recipient was Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise, a “Vermont Alpine cheese” that achieved the distinction by advancing to the Super Gold final round of judging along with 46 other world-class cheeses.

Last year’s success continued a trend that started more than a decade ago when U.S. entrants like Vella Dry Jack began taking top honors. U.S. cheese makers now score well in a variety of categories, often equaling or besting competitors from countries where specific cheese styles are rooted in centuries-old tradition. For example, in the 2010 class for extra mature traditional Cheddar, Fiscalini Cheese Co. from California and Grafton Cheese Co. from Vermont both shared medal honors with Quickes Traditional Ltd., of Exeter, one of the most respected Cheddar makers in England.

Now running for 20 years, the BBC Good Food Show attracts thousands of visitors for what is considered the ultimate food-lovers single-day event in the U.K. Last year’s event drew 89,000 visitors.

The entry cost for one cheese is $47. U.S. cheese makers need only fill out an online entry form, pay the entry fee and get the cheese sample to the appointed consolidator in the United States. Event organizers then cover the cost of shipping from the point of consolidation to the U.K. The online entry form can be found at http://www.finefoodworld.co.uk/wca

Sponsorship of the World Cheese Awards is one of many export marketing activities conducted each year by the dairy checkoff-funded USDEC. In 2011, for example, the organization held numerous trade missions and seminars that brought together U.S. suppliers and overseas buyers to continually expand markets for U.S. cheese and ingredients.

Source: U.S. Dairy Export Council