Best of Show: Emmi Roth USA, Grand Cru Surchoix (Third Place ACS 2012)
Rene Weber had just finished his eight-year cheese mastership program in Switzerland when he saw a newspaper blurb about a Wisconsin cheese company that wanted to make Gruyère. It was 1991. He hopped on a cargo ship in Antwerp that took him to Montreal, where he got in a car and drove to Monroe, Wisconsin, and knocked on the door of the Roth Käse cheese company. “It’s such a cliché,” he says, laughing. They hired him to make a Gruyère-style cheese, and so began the journey that brought us Emmi Roth USA’s Grand Cru Surchoix, the cheese that won third-place Best of Show at this year’s ACS competition.
Twenty-one years later Weber’s original practices are still in play. Made with pasteurized, local cow’s milk from a Wisconsin cooperative, Grand Cru Surchoix is a firm, dense, surfaceripened cheese that’s regularly smeared with a brine solution during aging. Wheels of Surchoix begin as the company’s standard Gruyère-style cheese, but those that show promise in the earlier stages of aging are chosen to mature into something extra special. The flavor is complex, balancing sweetness and salt with distinct notes of nuts, caramel, hay, and cellar. Weber himself eats Grand Cru Surchoix regularly. “I eat it every which way,” he remarks. “With a chunk of bread right out of the fridge, I grate it over pasta, I put it in omelets, and it’s good cold, with a pickle and a dark beer.”
Weber is quick to note that every wheel of cheese is slightly different, depending on thousands of variables that all begin with what the cow eats. “I think we just hit it right with this cheese,” he says. “There [are] a lot of gut feelings involved in making cheese. That’s where the art comes in.” In the aftermath of the competition excitement, Weber says his staff is still pumped from the win. “This award gives the [Emmi Roth] cheesemakers so much pride. When we win ribbons like this, we celebrate like other people celebrate home runs. It’s huge.” Looking forward to next year, competition or no, Weber will continue to strive for best results. “This year was great recognition of our work. This doesn’t mean that we’re done.”Photos by: Krystal Kast and Nick Pironio