The best way to describe U.S. cheesemakers' performance at this year's World Cheese Awards is "unprecedented." Thirty-six companies collected 83 medals in 43 cheese categories. Of those 83 medals, 21 were gold, 27 silver and 35 bronze.

Every one of those numbers not only surpassed results from all previous contests, they obliterated them -- more than doubling the average annual medal totals from 2004-2007.

"The 2008 World Cheese Awards, where judges recognized a record 56 U.S. cheeses, was extraordinary," says Angelique Hollister, marketing director, cheese and manufactured products, for the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). "But U.S. cheesemakers this year topped it by far.

"The performance reaffirms that the United States has come of age on the global stage. We have the capabilities to compete with any country in the world in cheese quality and variety," Hollister says.

Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of this year's event was the broad sweep of U.S. success. U.S. cheese artisans earned awards in 43 categories-compared to a previous high of 28.

U.S. companies scored well in known specialties like cheddar and mozzarella, but they also took home medals for, among other types, camembert, provolone and gouda-varieties that have been rarely represented on the winner's list in the past.

"Gouda, in particular, is one of the world's most popular cheeses, and one that has leapt from culture to culture and country to country fairly easily in recent years, penetrating and gaining a foothold in markets where cheese, at one time, was a foreign concept," says Hollister. "Yet the United States is not known as a Gouda producer-and some overseas buyers might not even consider a U.S. source when looking to purchase it."

Thorp, Wis.-based Holland's Family Cheese took home five medals for their Gouda at the competition, with Traver, Calif.-based Bravo Farms Handmade Cheese picking up a sixth.

"That's one specific instance where an event like the World Cheese Awards can open people's eyes," says Hollister.

More than 2,500 cheeses from all corners of the globe vied for the taste buds of the judges' panel. While all U.S. winners were notable, some companies merited outstanding recognition.

Sartori Foods Corp., Plymouth, Wis., picked up the most medals-11-including three golds for its Romano, gorgonzola and Sartori Reserve Black Pepper Bella Vitano (hand-rubbed with cracked pepper). Nampa, Idaho-based Sorrento Lactalis, the U.S. arm of France's Lactalis Group, nabbed nine medals in five Italian cheese categories. BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Denmark, Wis., took home six medals, half of them golds for its Ricotta con Latte, parmesan and aged provolone.

Marin French Cheese Co., Petaluma, Calif., won eight medals in seven categories-everything from camembert to brie to chevre-and earned the USDEC trophy for "Best U.S. Cheese" for its Le Petit Déjeuner.

Le Petit Déjeuner is a soft, cows' milk cheese with "old-fashioned ripened butter flavor," traditionally served with breakfast but versatile enough for hors d'oeuvres with any meal, Marin says.

"The contest has become a showcase for U.S. cheese craftsman to demonstrate their world-class cheesemaking expertise," says Hollister. "The recognition they continue to achieve works hand-in-hand with USDEC's export development efforts by enhancing the global image of the U.S. dairy industry as a quality supplier of just about any variety of cheese a customer may need."

Source: U.S. Dairy Export Council