A hard sheep's milk cheese called Esquirrou — made in France at Mauleon Fromagerie by Michel Touyarou and imported by Savencia Cheese USA of New Holland, Pa. — was named the 2018 World Champion Cheese. The winner of the annual World Champion Cheese Contest was announced on March 8 during a reception at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wis.

Earning an impressive score of 98.376 out of 100, Esquirrou (pronounced ehs-keer-oo) bested a record-breaking 3,402 entries in the 2018 contest, according to the Madison-based Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA), host of the biennial event. It is crafted in the Pyrénées region of France, aged no less than 90 days and features nutty notes and a toasted wheat aroma.

First runner-up in the contest, with a score of 98.267, is Arzberger Ursteirer, a hard cow's milk cheese aged in a silver mine made by Franz Moestl and team of Almenland Stollenkäse in Austria, WCMA said. Mont Vully Bio, a raw milk cheese washed with Pinot Noir wine and made by Ewald Schafer of Fromagerie Schafer in Switzerland, earned the second runner-up position with a score of 98.256.

"We salute World Championship Cheese Contest winners for their innovation and commitment to excellence in their craft," said John Umhoefer, executive director for WCMA.

Twenty-six nations were represented in this year’s contest. U.S. cheesemakers dominated the competition, WCMA said, earning gold medals in 87 of the 121 contest classes. Switzerland came in second with nine golds, and cheesemakers in Netherlands earned seven golds.

Among the American states, Wisconsin led with 47 gold medals. Idaho, New York and Vermont tied in the state rankings with six gold medals each, WCMA said. Cheesemakers in New Jersey earned four top spots.

The World Championship Cheese Contest, initiated in 1957, is the largest technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition in the world. A team of 56 internationally renowned judges technically evaluated all entries over the three-day competition.

For more information about the contest, as well as complete results for all entry classes, visit www.WorldChampionCheese.org.