CHILTON — Some farmers play polka or country music to soothe their cows during the twice-daily milking routine.
Not so for the 325 goats at LaClare Farm just outside of Chilton. For this curious herd and its two handlers, the boom box last week was tuned to Appleton’s WAPL-FM, one of the state’s most powerful rock stations.
But the goats, who heard Head East, Pink Floyd and AC/DC, also had no idea they were being milked by one of the rising rock stars of cheesemaking.
At just 26, Katie Hedrich is off to an impressive start in a field dominated by men, many of whom are twice or more her age.
Last year, at the U.S. Cheese Championships in the atrium of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Hedrich, then 25, took best of show with her Evalon, an aged hard goat’s milk cheese, and became just the second female cheesemaker to win the award.
Starting Monday, Hedrich will put her chèvre, cheddar and Evalon (named after her grandmother) up against the best on the planet in the World Championship Cheese Contest at Monona Terrace in Madison.
All of this and she’s been making cheese for just 2½ years.
“I really just want to get what the judges are saying and make (my cheese) better,” Hedrich said as she worked alongside her 30-year-old brother, Greg. “It comes down to the milk and paying attention to details.”
Hedrich’s cheese will be sampled by an international panel of judges. This year, the contest, held every other year, will feature 2,503 cheeses and butters in 83 classes from 30 states and 24 countries. The winners will be announced Wednesday night at a $25 per ticket gala expected to draw 400 people to the convention center’s ballroom.
Hedrich plans to attend but that wasn’t the case in last year’s contest in Green Bay.
Hedrich had no intention of going until she got a phone call from a panicked friend saying Hedrich’s Evalon had made the top 12. Hedrich, who was on a sales call in nearby Neenah, made it just in time to hear the announcement that she was the U.S. champion.
Moments, later she was posing with first runner-up Jim Sartori, a third-generation cheesemaker of Sartori Cheese in Plymouth and his company’s SarVecchio Parmesan, and second runner-up and Netherlands native Marieke Penterman, now 35, who makes a killer Gouda at her Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp, northeast of Eau Claire.
“It was pretty wild,” Hedrich recalled. “Really, really wild.”
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