The U.S. Champion Cheese contest is taking place in Green Bay Feb 21-22. With 197 dairy product makers bringing over 2200 entries, it’s bound to be a delicious time in Titletown. Chad Galer is one of the people who will be up in Green Bay. He’s not taking cheese to be judged though. He stands on the other side of the table as a cheese judge. A job that many would love to have.
Chad says that the job of being a cheese judge has to start with a love of cheese, but it’s much more than just that. Cheese judges almost always have a history not just eating cheese but also making cheese. The actual job itself is all about finding the cheese that is as close to perfect as possible for each different type being judged. Each piece starts at 100 points and points are taken away for defects the judges find.
There are hundreds of types of cheese being made here in the US and beyond and Galer says that judges generally stick to certain types that they know well. While one judge may specialize in cheddar or feta, the next may be more knowledgeable about blue or brie. Chad himself says he focuses on cheddars and other American style cheese such as Monterey Jack and Colby. He does some dabbling in blue, brie and feta as well but generally does not judge the softer cheeses or Mexican style cheese.
Chad grew up here in Wisconsin on a dairy farm. He went on to study microbiology. He says many judges have a dairy science background, however experience working with and making cheese and building on those skills through mentorships and further education is what builds the skills a cheese judge needs. Today Galer works for Dairy Management Inc, the national milk checkoff organization. While he often represents DMI as a judge, his day to day job entails research to promote dairy and helping to build food safety protocols.
If you’re a real cheese lover and want to see the US Championship Cheese Contest competition for yourself, the preliminary rounds of judging are open to the public. You can get more information at USchampioncheese.org