The immigrant impact of U.S. cheesemaking isn’t just a part of the industry’s history. It was in full force on the victory podium at the United States Championship Cheese Contest on March 7.
Top honors went to Ohio-based Guggisberg Cheese, which was founded in 1950 by a Swiss immigrant. Richard Guggisberg now runs the company and has perfected the cheeses once made by his father, Alfred, who came to the U.S. in 1947.
The winning cheese was a small wheel of Baby Swiss, a style the company claims Alfred Guggisberg originated.
Despite its name, Swiss cheese is a North American original based on cheeses from Switzerland, such as Emmental. Alfred Guggisberg tweaked the recipe to make it more friendly to American palates — milder and more buttery. It was also a much smaller wheel than the traditional giant wheels of Swiss-style cheeses.
“He developed it, and my mom said, ‘Well, that looks like a baby.’ And that’s how it got its name,” Richard Guggisberg said.
Second and third place went to Marieke Penterman, who came to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 2003 and later married a dairy farmer, immigrant Rolf Penterman, also a Dutch immigrant.
Penterman missed the traditional Dutch cheese that she loved, so she earned her Wisconsin cheesemaker’s license and returned to the Netherlands to learn how to make it.
Her cheeses are all Gouda, many with added flavors such as foenegreek, pepper, red wine, cumin and mustard. Wheels are aged from two months to three years.
In 2013, one of her cheeses took top honors at the U.S. championships. Business flourished as the awards kept rolling in.
In recent weeks, Penterman has seen a spike in sales like never before. Prior to the contest, she was featured on the national U.S. program “CBS Sunday Morning.” Since then, orders have poured in.
“Within 24 hours, we received more online orders than we did in all of 2018,” said Kim Rabuck, general manager of Marieke Gouda. “It was truly amazing and unexpected.”