By Keith Skenandore
Emmi Roth took home three awards at the World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, Wis., last week, including the honor of placing in the Top 20 Cheeses.
Roth® Gorgonzola, a signature cheese from the company’s Wisconsin-made Roth brand of cheeses, scored 98.55 in the Gorgonzola cheese category, ranking it Best of Class and putting it into the Top 20 Cheeses.
Roth Gorgonzola, made at Emmi Roth’s newest creamery here in Seymour, is an Italian-style blue aged 3+ months for a full, earthy flavor and pillowy texture.
“There is no greater compliment for our cheesemakers and team than being recognized like this on an international stage,” said Tim Omer, president and managing director at Emmi Roth, in a press statement. “The passion and commitment of everyone here at Emmi Roth is inspiring and exciting to be part of.”
In 2016 Emmi Roth was named the World Champion Cheese for its Grand Cru Surchoix Alpine-style cheese. Four years later their gorgonzola was recognized as Best of Class. That recognition was rewarding to Omer being that Emmi Roth, a leader producer of specialty cheese, expanded their operations with the purchase of Seymour’s Great Lakes Cheese plant.
They assumed ownership of the Seymour factory on Feb. 28, 2019.
“We said there was one thing we wanted there, and that was to make the best cheese in the country and the world,” Omer said. “Our plant manager Shelby Sheppard really took that to heart and is leading a revolution there.”
Sheppard, who has been plant manager since the Emmi Roth transition, is really proud of her cheesemaking team here in Seymour. She said they had a really good year with the transition to Emmi Roth.
“It’s especially a wonder,” said Sheppard, “because last year we did the same thing in the U.S. competition. We took best in craft for our gorgonzola last year and we made it to the top 20 in that category.
“To do that in the U.S. Championships and then follow it up and do it again in the World Championships, it really tells the team here that we’re doing something right.”
Sheppard said when she watched the news of making it Best of Class, she started texting her cheesemakers that were on staff and her management team, letting them know where we placed.
“We got first place for best cheesemaker for Gorgonzola in the world,” said a happy Sheppard.
She then went through the plant and gave all the team members high-fives.
“For a lot of people that achievement alone is very special,” Sheppard said. “It’s enough to keep you satisfied. It’s enough to show you that you are doing something right.”
The next day, not knowing the top 20 cheeses, Sheppard was watching to see how the other facilities were doing when she found out the news. Staff celebrated with treats and some break time before it was back to producing more award winning cheese.
“It was unreal,” she said. “I think we’re still floating on that cloud.
Although there was no top three finishers in the top 20 list, state cheesemakers won 45 top awards out of 132 categories in Wisconsin, and in 13 categories, finished in the top three.
What makes their blue veined Italian gorgonzola cheese so special, according to Sheppard, is an indication that they are doing the right thing.
That right thing is a classic recipe that’s been used for a number of years.
“We didn’t do anything special with our product to win this award,” Sheppard said. “This is product that we make every day. I can pull it off the shelf any given day and you’re going to get that same high-quality product that the judges found to be the best in the world.”
Sheppard did say that since they have been entering competitions, they take the feedback the judges give them and we will fine tune what they’re doing.
“We try to hit the marks that we missed the year before,” Sheppard said. “To make this happen it was years of modifications and just listening to the feedback of the professionals that are serving our product and listening to our customers.”
Making a good quality cheese starts at the farm with good, clean, high quality milk, according to Sheppard, and given to a plant that has good, clean, high quality standards.
“If you don’t have that at the gate you’re not ever going to make it,” she said. “It just tells us that we have a clean plant and we have blue-veined experts here that know what we are doing.”
Sheppard, who was with Great Lakes for 12 years, came to Seymour’s plant as a production manager seven years ago. She recalls when the managing director of Emmi Roth came to Great Lakes and approached the company wanting to make the best cheese in the country and make the best cheese in the world.
“He really showed that Emmi had a passion for good cheese making,” Sheppard said of their managing director. “I knew that it was basically a match made in heaven because that’s what we wanted, too.”