Old faithful Gruyère has once again been crowned the best cheese on the planet. It marks the fourth time in 34 years that the Alpine classic has taken the top prize in what is largely considered to be the Oscars of the cheese world. Le Gruyère AOP surchoix, a matured gruyère made from raw cow’s milk from Switzerland, was named the champion at the World Cheese Awards 2022, with judges noting its complex flavours, ranging from herbs through to leather.
What may come as a surprise is the astounding number of global entries it beat to the top: a record 4,434 cheeses from 42 countries. Beyond the usual competition from France, Italy, and UK, gold-medal cheeses from Brazil, India, and Lithuania gave the Swiss a run for their money.
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A truly global event, the World Cheese Awards is organised by the Guild of Fine Food, which assembles an international team of prominent cheesemakers, cheesemongers, buyers and food commentators to participate in a day-long judging process. Each cheese is evaluated on its appearance, body and texture, and aroma. But the most important factor is the flavour. Similar to judging quality in wine, cheese needs to excel in complexity, balance, mouthfeel, and length of finish.
Tasting teams made up of three judges awarded bronze, silver and gold medals to standout examples, and nominated one cheese for a Super Gold award. A total of 98 Super Gold entries were progressed to a further round of judging by a 16-strong Super Jury. Finally, Le Gruyère AOP surchoix was named the overall winner.
A major goal of the competition is to champion artisanal producers for their traditional styles as well as their daring innovations
A major goal of the competition – with tastings conducted blind – is to champion artisanal producers for their traditional styles as well as their daring innovations. Plenty of large, commercial entries crop up, as do many classics like Mozzarella, Cheddar and Brie with varying results, but the entries that turn heads can be downright strange. Japan stood out in particular with award-winning entries ranging from brown cheese (based on Norway’s caramel flavoured Brunwost), smoked string cheese pickled in soy sauce, and fish-infused cheese – which were all strangely superb.
WCA travels every year, and the 2022 edition was originally intended to be hosted by Ukraine in Kyiv. The Welsh Government stepped in to support this year’s awards while still shining a light on Ukrainian cheese, with the inclusion of special tastings for the public and professionals.
As per tradition, the evening concluded with the host country exchanging wheels of cheese with next year’s host, announcing that the 2023 World Cheese Awards will be held in Trondheim, Norway. But for now, here’s a selection of five top cheeses from the 2022 Super Gold list, sure to add star quality to any cheeseboard.
Five of the world’s best cheeses and the wines to pair them with
Gorwydd Caerphilly from Trethowan’s Dairy
A Welsh cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk. The rind has a mushroomy flavour, with a creamy layer beneath it. The centre is lactic and lemony with a delicate, crumbly texture. The three characteristics together make for great depth of flavour and unique style. Super Jury judge Eurwen Richards says, ‘it can be enjoyed as a young cheese full of flavour, but it also matures beautifully.’
Drink it with: a traditional method sparkling wine with lemony flavours and a dry, crisp finish, like the Cariad Sparkling Brut from Llanerch Vineyard in Wales.
Gorgonzola Dolce DOP from De’ Magi
An Italian soft, blue, buttery cheese made from pasteurised cow’s milk. It has a pale-yellow, buttery paste, evenly speckled with blue and green veins. The flavours are soft and sweet, with notes of sour cream and a lactic tang. It takes a minimum of 45 days of ageing to let Gorgonzola demonstrate its unique characteristics.
Drink it with: a medium-sweet Riesling like Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, to offset the subtle blue tang and salty finish.
Norton and Yarrow Cheese, Sinodun Hill
A French-inspired, pyramid-shaped cheese made on a farm in Oxfordshire from pasteurised goat’s milk. It is similar in style to a Pouligny-Saint-Pierre from the Loire Valley, with a light, mousse-like and gently citric paste, complemented by the slightly nutty edge provided by the rind.
Drink it with: a zesty, mineral-driven Sancerre like Gérard Fiou, Terroir Silex Sancerre to complement the lemony freshness of the cheese and add to the generous, flavourful finish.
Le Gruyère AOP Surchoix by Vorderfultigen Gourmino
A full body Alpine cheese from Switzerland made from the raw milk of cows that are left to graze naturally. Swiss Super Jury judge Christian Zuercher championed the cheese for being ‘smooth in your mouth and melting on your tongue. You have a lot of flavour in it, from herby to fruity, roasted, with a real leather note.’
Drink it with: a delicate and fresh Cru Beaujolais like Julien Sunier Fleurie; its juicy wild strawberry and fragrant redcurrant flavours balance the fruity, nutty, and herbaceous layers of the cheese.
Pata de Mulo Curado by Quesería Los Payuelos
A Spanish cheese made from raw sheep’s milk in the Tierra de Campos region of Castilla y León. The name translates to ‘mules foot’ because the oblong shape of the cheese resembles a mule’s hoof. The cheese is firm and creamy, with smooth flavour, perfect to slice thinly and serve with membrillo.
Drink it with: smooth and elegant Reserva Rioja like Ontanon Rioja Reserva, ideal for its earthy spice notes layered with ripe brambly fruit.