A Norwegian blue cheese bested contenders from around the world Friday to become the world’s new No. 1 cheese.
The cheese, Nidelven Blå from cheesemaker Gangstad Gårdsysteri, vied against the crème de la crème of the cheese world in Trondheim, Norway, in the world’s largest global cheese event.
Organized by the Guild of Fine Food, the World Cheese Awards, now in its 35th edition, saw experts from across the globe join forces to crown this year’s champion.
And 2023 marked a record-breaking year for the competition, with 4,502 cheeses, the highest number ever, arriving “by boat, truck, train and plane” to be judged by an esteemed panel of cheese experts.
After a long day of deliberations, this year’s winner was finally chosen in front of a live audience by a carefully assembled “super jury,” including the Ambassador of Food Culture at Whole Foods Market in the US, after the entrants had been whittled down to a final 16.
“We’re a small dairy farm based just two hours from here, so this happening on our home turf means a lot, and having all of the crew from the dairy here adds an extra spark to it,” said Maren Gangstadt, general manager of Gangstadt Gårdsysteri, in a statement.
The judges had delectable things to say about Nidelven Blå, a semi-solid, blue mold cheese, made with pasteurized cows’ milk.
“It has this sort of short creaminess, like real dense fudginess,” said one judge. Another called it “the perfect blue cheese.”
A third remarked on its balance and “fruity overtones, maybe some wine-like characteristics that really speak. It’s a very unique language.”
Cheeses from around the world
The winning cheese had to speak up against fierce global competition.
“Competition is always stiff in the World Cheese Awards,” John Farrand, managing director of the World Cheese Awards, told CNN Travel ahead of the event.
“Effectively, we have over 40 different countries competing. So therefore, you’re expecting the best quality cheeses from those countries.”
The proceedings got underway at the Trondheim Spektrum indoor arena on Friday morning, when the wider judging panel, made up of 264 leading cheese experts, began assessing between 40 to 50 cheeses across around 100 tables, working in teams of two to three.
“What we ask them to do, quite simply, is to assess the visual aspects of the cheese and then the aroma of the cheese,” says Farrand.
“And then there’s a sort of heavier weighting in the scoring for the taste and mouthfeel of the cheese. So they’re looking at all aspects of it and how that sort of marries together.”
Once each group had come to an agreement, the top choices were awarded gold, silver or bronze status, with each judging table selecting one as a “super gold.”
The next stage of the competition saw the “super gold” champions whittled down to a final 16, by the Super Jury, made up of a team of 16 experts, who went on to debate the finalists, with Nidelven Blå coming out on top.
“The cheese community is a strong one,” says Farrand. “They [the judges] do enjoy it. They have fun.
“But ultimately it’s a pretty serious job. Because for the small cheesemakers who win awards, it can just make such a big contribution to the success and growth of their business.”
Strong numbers from Norway
Host country Norway had its highest ever number of entries, 293, this year.
According to Farrand, the World Cheese Awards has grown from roughly 250 “majority UK entries” when it began in 1988, to 4,502 entries from 43 different countries across the world this year.
“We really do have cheeses from around the world,” he adds, explaining that the team works hard to ensure that the awards are accessible to smaller artisan cheesemakers so that the line-up is as eclectic as possible.
“We’ve got some really interesting cheeses this year from India and Japan that have only very recently been allowed, in the last two or three years, into the awards.
“But equally our judges like to find old favorites.”
In 2022, the coveted award went to Swiss cheese maker Vorderfultigen and affineur (refiner) Gourmino’s Le Gruyère AOP surchoix.