This year’s World Champion Cheese drew rapturous applause and even tears from the crowd at the World Cheese Awards, and that was because the soft blue cheese is made just two hours from Trondheim – by the first family to apply to make farmhouse cheese in Norway 25 years ago.
Named after the Trøndelag county river, Nidelven Blå is made by fourth generation farmers, husband and wife Maren and Ole Gangstad at Gangstad Gårdsysteri.
The handmade, cows’ milk blue cheese is aged for six to nine months, and is already their best-selling cheese, in part thanks to its successes at previous World Cheese Awards: it won the Best Norwegian cheese and a Super Gold in 2019.
The 35th edition of the unique cheese-only competition – organised by the Guild of Fine Food and first held in 1988 – took place in Trondheim, Norway, on Friday, 27th October. This year saw a record number of entries – 4,502 cheeses from 43 countries – which were judged by an international panel of 264 judges from 38 nations.
These included some of the most knowledgeable professionals in the cheese industry, as well as food journalists, retail buyers and experts in other food categories, to make sure the cheeses were rigourously assessed. During the first part of the judging process, the cheeses were given scores on the basis of taste, aroma, flavour and texture, and attributed a score out of 100, determining whether they were worthy of a bronze, silver or gold medal.
This year’s super jury of 16 experts – including longstanding WCA judge Cathy Strange of Whole Foods Market and newcomers such as Ana Belén of González Pinõs in Spain; Aki Sakagami of The Cheese Association in Japan, and Georgina Yescas, CEO at artisanal Mexican retail & wholesale operation Lactography – then tasted the 100 Super Gold cheeses, each selecting their favourite for a final round of judging.
Among these 16 cheeses, there were two from the UK, three from Italy, two from the Netherlands, two from Switzerland, two – incidentally, by the same maker – from Germany, and single cheeses from India, Austria, Belgium and host country, Norway.
Finbar Deery of Sheridans Cheesemongers in Ireland, who was on the super jury for the first time this year and selected the winning cheese as his favourite – said he “absolutely loved” it, namely for the interplay between milk and blue flavours.
“It’s not getting barrelled over by the penicillin, there’s something else going on,” he said. “The texture was the first thing that hit home. It has this short creaminess and a real dense fudginess.”
He added that a strong point in its favour was that it has a slight bitterness.
“We don’t appreciate bitterness in cheese – but when you have such a rich texture, the bitterness comes through and it keeps the whole show on the road.”
Meanwhile, Guild of Fine Food managing director John Farrand said it made him “incredibly proud” to have a Norwegian winner for the third time, after the country’s success in 2016 and 2018, calling it “a testament to the care and effort that has been invested by the Norwegian artisan cheese trade”.
The World Champion Cheese was announced at 5pm on the day, with the Bronze, Silver and Gold medals revealed on Saturday, and trophies celebrating the best in region and style announced on the following Monday.
Among them, Norton and Yarrow’s lactic Sinodun Hill took the top trophy for Britain, while a soft pasteurised sheep’s cheese – Goustal la Bergère from Société des Caves – was named Best French cheese. The Best Cheddar was Ireland’s Mount Leinster Clothbound from Coolattin Cheddar, which was also given the title of Best Irish Cheese.
The Best New Cheese award was a Norwegian-style Brunost made by Cheese Store in Japan. The event was held alongside the Oste-VM festival – a trade conference and consumer event all about cheese. The public were given access to the venue, allowing them to see the judging arena, and visit exhibitors at the World Cheese Market.
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