FIVE GOLDEN RINGS: Regional Cheesemakers Win Big at U.S. Championships

Marieke Gouda leads Chippewa Valley champs

Tom Giffey |

HER CHEESE STANDS ALONE. Marieke Peterman of Marieke Gouda in Thorp. (Submitted photo)
HER CHEESE STANDS ALONE. Marieke Peterman of Marieke Gouda in Thorp. (Submitted photo)

Wisconsin’s reputation as a state full of cheeseheads is well-deserved – and we’re not just talking about the foam hats worn at Packers games. The state has a fabled cheesemaking tradition, and that was displayed loud and proud at the 2023 United States Champion Cheese Contest held Feb. 21-22 in Green Bay.

Three Chippewa Valley cheesemakers won a total of five gold medals in a variety of categories. Most notably, Marieke Gouda of Thorp won Best of Class trophies in three categories: Edam & Gouda (for its 2-4 month aged Gouda), Flavored Gouda (black mustard flavor), and Cold Pack Cheese (natural Gouda spread). Marieke Gouda also received four second-place awards and three third-place finishes.

Marieke Penterman and her team at Marieke Gouda are no stranger to success, having won the Grand Champion crown  at the national competition in 2013. Marieke Gouda cheeses are made with milk from the family’s own farm, and are sold at numerous outlets, including at the Marieke Gouda Store in Thorp and at the brand-new House of Gouda at 4008 Commonwealth Ave., Eau Claire, opening on Feb. 28.

Meanwhile, LaGrander’s Hillside Dairy of Stanley won Best of Class in the Colby category for its LaGrander’s Colby Longhorn. (LaGrander’s products also took No. 2 in the same category and placed second and third among cheese curds.)

Cheese lovers looking for something a bit spicy should seek out the Ghost Pepper Jack made by AMPI in Jim Falls: It earned Best of Class honors in the Pepper Flavored Monterey Jack (Medium Heat) category. AMPI’s Jim Falls cheesemakers also took second place in the Smoked Hard Cheeses Open Place for their Smokey Cheddar Cheese.

A little farther afield, a Medium Cheddar made in Blair by Dillon Sylla of AMPI was second runner-up (third place) in the overall competition, earning 98.554 out of a possible 100 points. 

Overall, Wisconsin cheesemakers took first in 54 of the contest’s 113 classes. By comparison, California cheesemakers had the second-best showing, with nine gold medals. The top prize of the entire competition, however, went to a cheese made in New England: An aged Gouda called Europa and made at Arethusa Farm Dairy in Bantam, Connecticut, earned a score of 98.739 out of 100 points, topping 2,249 entries from nearly 200 dairies across 35 states.

The U.S. Champion Cheese Contest has been hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association every two years since 1981. Learn more at