Sunday, April 19, 2015

4th Annual Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship

Yesterday I went to the 4th Annual Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship in Dodgeville, WI to see my brother and a friend (Bill from the Fab Five) compete.

There's an amateur and professional division for the following categories: classic (bread, cheese, butter), classic + 1 (classic plus one ingredient), classic + extras (classic plus unlimited extra ingredients), and dessert (sweet not savory). There's also one "Young Chef" competition (ages 12-17), making a total of nine competitions during the day (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

All sandwich fillings must be at least 60% cheese, and of course, all cheese must come from Wisconsin. Competitors begin their 15-minute grilling time with a "Spatulas Up!" from emcee Kyle Cherek, host of PBS's "Wisconsin Foodie" TV show.

Assistant Linda and Chef Bill
Amateur - Classic + 1

Chef T.J. and Assistant Steve
Professional - Classic + Extras
from Madison's Vintage Brewing Co.

Competitors must make two sandwiches: one to be kept whole for the judges to view, and one that they cut into fourths for the judges to sample.

If you want to see what was in T.J.'s incredible grilled cheese, here it is (plus his thoughts on the day, as a participant).

 When finished, competitors raise a flag, and runners collect both plates to take to the judges.

Each sandwich can earn a total of 40 points per judge, 160 total points overall (there are four judges). Here's the scoring breakdown:
  • 10 pts - Presentation
  • 20 pts - Taste
  • 10 pts - Style

Judges for the amateur competitions ranged from Fox 47 new anchor Michelle Carolla to Dodgeville's Mayor, Todd Novak. Professional competition judges ranged from Fromagination's Ken Monteleone to Paul Short, culinary arts instructor at Madison College.

After the 15 minutes are up, competitors aren't quite finished. They next head over to the "VIP" area to grill two more sandwiches. These are quartered (eight samples total) and available for VIP guests to eat.

T.J. grilling at the VIP station

Apparently VIP passes sold out two weeks before the competition, and they cost $20 per person. Since each competitor only has eight samples of their sandwich, and there are a boatload of VIP people, you have to stand in front of the chef whose sample you want the most, and then see what else is available after you try your top choice.

I did not have a VIP pass, but would definitely get one when attending in the future. I was really curious what many of these tasted like.

Professional - Dessert

It was fun to watch the variety of people's culinary creativity, plus to feel the slight adrenaline rush as the timer ticked down its final minute.

Professional - Dessert
(A.J. from Madison's Vintage Brewing Co.)

There were several food carts and beverage vendors there all day, so spectators were not left hungry.

There were also many booths of Wisconsin cheese vendors with samples, so you could taste test a ton of different cheeses.

Results for each category were announced about a half an hour after the chefs had competed, so they had time to do their VIP cooking first.

Bill placed second in his category! This was his fourth year competing, so here's what he placed each of those four years: third, second, n/a, second.

Amateur - Classic + 1 Winners: Bill (Wisconsin hat) 2nd place

And while many thought T.J.'s grilled cheese would surely place, myself included, that unfortunately was not the case this year. Upon seeing all of the scores, we found out that he had been just one point away from placing. He placed 3rd last year, though, which was his first year entering the competition.

The head chef from his work, A.J., placed 2nd in the professional classic + 1 category, bringing home a trophy that's now sitting behind the bar at Vintage Brewing Co.

Despite the disappointment, it had still been a fun day. I'm already looking forward to see what everyone cooks up for next year's competition.

Now who's gonna go make themselves a grilled cheese? Spatulas up!

Added 4/23/15:

Here's a lil video of the event if you want an inside look! T.J. and I are in there starting at 6:13

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