Gunnar Waagen from Nordmøre in Norway traveled to the food mecca of San Sebastian, Spain this week simply to taste other cheeses and get some inspiration at the annual World Cheese Awards. The chairman of cheesemaking firm Tingvollost had never attended the awards ceremony before, and was stunned when his small firm’s blue cheese won the equivalent of a cheese world championship.
“I cheered and dabbed away some tears and stammered forth some strange words in English,” Waagen told state broadcaster NRK. He was totally unprepared that Tingvollost’s Kraftkar cheese would win top honours, and that he suddenly would be deluged with interview requests.
His company began to take part in the annual competition in 2011. Kraftkar had won awards in its category before, but this year it became the best of all, based on the decisions of around 300 judges tasting more than 3,000 cheeses from around the world. They dubbed it “the best cheese ever made,” with Ossau Iraty from Fromagerie Agour in France placing second and Le Gruyère AOP Premier Cru from Switzerland third.
Ingulf Galaaen, another Norwegian cheesemaker from Røros, accepted the “Champion of Champions” trophy on Waagen’s behalf on Thursday because Waagen was already on his way home to Norway “to make more cheese.” Galaaen called the award “another wonderful moment and a fantastic achievement for cheesemakers in Norway,” where cheesemaking has long been dominated by dairy cooperative Tine. Several specialty, family-owned producers like Tingvollost have started producing and marketing their cheese in recent years.