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Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Image from www.grilledcheesewisconsin.com.
This weekend marked the 3rd Annual Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship which took place at its new location in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.  Not only was I one of hundreds of attendees, but I was also one of the few crazy enough to compete!  I've known about the competition for several years, but after watching Wisconsin Foodie's special about the competition just over a month ago, I jumped on the computer and registered that same night.

For those not familiar, the structure of the competition and general rules are as follows:

  1. The competition is split into three main levels of experience:
    1. Young Chef (aged 12 to 17), 
    2. Amateur (one who engages in cooking as a past-time rather than as a profession and is 18 years or older), and
    3. Professional (one who engages in cooking as part of their profession and is 18 years or older).
  2. Within those three levels, there are four categories that you can compete in:
    1. Classic (bread, butter, and one type of Wisconsin cheese),
    2. Classic Plus One (bread, butter, one type of Wisconsin cheese, and one additional ingredient),
    3. Classic Plus Extras (bread, butter, unlimited types of Wisconsin cheese, and unlimited additional ingredients), and
    4. Classic Dessert (bread, butter, unlimited types of Wisconsin cheese, and unlimited additional "sweet" ingredients).
  3. Wisconsin cheese must make up at least 60% of the fillings used.
  4. Competitors have 15 minutes to make two sandwiches:  one to be judged on presentation, and one to be cut into four sections for the judges to taste.  After the timed portion, competitors make two additional sandwiches for VIP guests to try.
  5. Processed cheeses (like American or Velveeta) will get you disqualified.
  6. Tabletop butane burners and 12" skillets are provided, while you are responsible for bringing spatulas, knives, cutting boards, and your ingredients.  You are not allowed to bring your own skillet.
  7. A maximum of 20 competitors are allowed in each heat.  In addition, you are able to compete in up to four different heats if you wish.
I ended up competing in the Professional Classic Plus Extras heat.  I started off my experimentation a month ago by having a grilled cheese party.  That day I made four different types of sandwiches alongside some homemade tomato soup.  Although they were all decent, none of them really stood out among the others.  They merely served as a starting point to see what others liked and disliked about grilled cheese.  I kept on fine tuning my recipe, but didn't really nail it down until two nights ago.  The final product consisted of my homemade American sandwich bread grilled with a rosemary compound butter, Mindoro Blue cheese, Apple Jack cheese, thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, a cranberry spread, and dried cranberries.  In addition to the local cheeses that I used, I decided on using two types of cranberries to highlight another food that Wisconsin is known for.  The blue cheese from Mondoro was by far the best blue cheese I've ever had and paired well with the Apple Jack, which is a milder cheese that's great for melting.
Half of my cranberry, apple, blue cheese, and Apple Jack grilled cheese.
Walking around I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar faces who have been showcased on my favorite television show, Wisconsin Foodie.  Some of them include Alisa Toninato (who is responsible for those cast iron pans made in the shape of Wisconsin), Tony Hook (of Hook's Cheese Company), Andy Hatch (of Uplands Cheese), KYLE CHEREK (host of Wisconsin Foodie), among others.  Needless to say, it made my day seeing these small town celebrity foodies.

In between checking out local vendors and chatting with competitors, I had plenty of time to observe other competitors in action.  Watching others, it seemed like 15 minutes was more than enough time to get the job done, but after actually competing, I couldn't believe how fast the time went by.  The 15 minute setup period combined with the 15 minutes of competing felt like a combined total of 5 minutes.  Besides the whole timing thing (and nerves getting the better of me), the only thing I wasn't quite prepared for was getting used to the fast cooking time that gas has as opposed to the electric burners that I'm so used to.  In the end, the insides of my sandwich could have been a little more melted, but I didn't want to risk browning the bread too much to achieve that.  So with three minutes to spare, I decided to take my sandwiches off the grill and call it good.

Results were announced about 30 minutes after each heat was completed.  Being that this was my first time competing and I was surrounded by professionals from around the state, my goal was just to finish, hah!  Through some miracle though, emcee Kyle Cherek announced my name as the 3rd Place Winner!  After gladly accepting my trophy and taking pictures with other finalists, I could finally take a deep breath, relax, and take it all in.
Combining the outcome of the day, the people that I met, and the overall atmosphere given off by fellow Wisconsin foodies, I'm sure I'll be back next year!

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  1. Wow, congratulations!!! Wish I could have been there!

  2. Congratulations! So happy for you and proud of your accomplishment. And I want a bite of that sandwich! Way to go -- wouldn't expect anything less from you!

    1. Thanks Rebe and Wendy! :)

    2. Congratulations, that sandwich looks delicious. I am very proud of you :) :) :)

  3. T.J. that is awesome. Congratulations! Of course you'll have to whip up some of these beauties for a family get together. Perhaps we could be test subjects before next years contest. Nice work! It looks like a fun event.

    1. Thanks Steve! Yeah, next year I think I'll do the same category, as well as the dessert category. We'll have to have you guys taste some of the creations at some point.