A kicky cheddar with Hatch chiles inside and out. An aged goat cheese coated with traditional vegetable ash from France. Mesquite Honey from the desert, with a rich and wild taste.
If you’re looking for holiday gifts, gathering a sumptuous spread for guests — or just ready to find a new local favorite — the judges of the 2021 Utah Cheese Awards have picked gold-medal winners for your wish list.
Graphic designer Steve Jerman has coordinated the awards since they began five years ago. There’s been an “influx of smaller artisan makers statewide” over the past 20 years, he said, “and Utah should be proud of the cheeses this state has produced.”
Judges selected medalists and two Best of Show foods from dozens of cheeses and cheese-plate partners, like charcuterie, bread and sauces. Here are the winners, announced earlier this month, and what made them stand out.
Best of show: Cheese
In judges’ comments shared by Jerman, the mix of experts and foodies liked the “medium heat” and “kick of peppers” in Red Butte Hatch Chili, a cheddar flavored with the signature New Mexico chiles and a spice rub on its rind.
Its maker, Beehive Cheese Company in Uintah, Weber County, calls it “creamy and smoky with a proper balance of heat,” and donates 3% of gross sales to Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City. Beehive started production in 2005, as one of the earlier artisan cheesemakers in Utah.
After recently sampling Red Butte Hatch Chili, Jon Hatch of Salt Lake City mused, “I’m going to use that to make macaroni and cheese for my kids.” On the company’s website, a new fan says he’s ordered his third wedge since trying it in a restaurant, topped with dried fig, honey and micro greens.
Beehive cheeses can be ordered online or are often at Smith’s; other places to find award winners include Caputo’s Market and Deli, Harmons, Whole Foods and Lee’s Marketplace.
The 2021 special recognition at the Nov. 11 award ceremony honored the late Tony Caputo, who helped launch Salt Lake City’s artisan food scene when he opened his namesake Italian market and deli across the street from Pioneer Park. He died in March at 72.
Best of show: Rest of plate
To assemble a cheese board, Jerman recommends choosing varieties that are “hard, soft, some cheddar. Three to six is a good number.” Add fruit (grapes, apples, figs are top choices), include some crostini or bread, and other small bites and spreads.
The best of show winner for foods to accompany cheeses was Mesquite Honey, made by Rango Honey of Tempe, Ariz. Its hives are placed in the Sonoran desert, the company website says, where bees are attracted to the flowers of Honey Mesquite and other varieties, yielding an amber-colored honey with a distinct taste.
The judges called it “rich” and “wild-tasting;” fans on the website call it “earthy” or describe it as having a “light woody/smoky flavor” and suggest using it on ice cream, in tea or to make barbecue sauce.
Rango Honey is one of the first out-of-state award winners. This year, cheesemakers and food producers in surrounding Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming — were invited to enter the Utah Cheese Awards.
In most categories, judges named gold, silver and bronze winners — but the Swiss cheese competition had only one: Holy Cow Baby Swiss, from Ballard Cheese in Gooding, Idaho, took the gold.
The cheese is aged for two or three months, instead of the longer timeline for traditional Swiss, which gives it a sharper flavor, the family operation explains on its website.
Stacie and Steve Ballard say they began with a dairy farm in 1995, and later, with other family members, started to make their name in cheese with weekly customer feedback from trips to the Farmers Market in Boise. Ballard Cheese collected an armload of medals — golds for its Swiss, its Danish Pearl Gouda and its Idaho Melting Cheese (in a miscellaneous category); silver for its Parmarono hard cheese; and bronzes for its cheddar and feta.
Snake Creek 6-Year Sharp Cheddar is a “divine and intense bite,” covered in a crystalline texture with strong citrus notes, says gold winner Heber Valley Artisan Cheese in Midway, Utah.
Silver • Old Juniper, Aggie Creamery, Logan, Utah. Bronze • Jersey Gem Cheddar from Ballard Cheese.
Curds are squeaky pieces of young cheddar. It’s key to eat them while they’re fresh — and gold winner MouCo Cheese offers a text line for fans in its home base of Fort Collins, Colo., with alerts when its latest batch is ready.
Silver • Hoppin’ Jalapeño Curd, Hollow Farms, Stockton, Utah. Bronze • Squeaky Bee Curd, Beehive Cheese Company, Uintah, Utah.
Goats that were the source of cheese from Mesa Farm Market drowned in a September flood that swept through Caineville and Hanksville. But Utah’s culinary community helped Randy Ramsley raise money to begin to rebuild his 50-acre enterprise along the Fremont River — and his Mesa Farm Feta took the gold at the cheese awards.
“Randy’s cheese tastes natural, and it tastes like a place that it comes from,” said Matt Caputo, CEO of Caputos, which buys and ages Mesa Farms cheeses. “You can taste the vibrancy and the health of his animals in his cheese,” Caputo told The Salt Lake Tribune in September.
Silver • Mayflower Feta, Park City Creamery, Heber City, Utah. Bronze • Jersey Dream Feta, Ballard Cheese, Gooding, Idaho.
Aggie Creamery’s Aggiano — a crystalized hard parmesan that’s perfect over pasta — has won gold status every year of the awards, Utah State University reported in 2020. That’s still true, as it snagged a gold medal again this year.
The creamery is part of USU’s College of Agriculture and Applied Science, and you can buy its cheese on-site in Logan or order it online.
Silver • Parmarono, Ballard Cheese, Gooding, Idaho.
The House Burrata made at Caputo’s Market in Salt Lake City won gold in this category. Burrata is “mozzarella’s creamier, dreamier little brother,” the market says on its website, with “hand-shredded bits of fresh curd ... soaked in fresh cream and neatly bound by a thin shell of mozzarella.”
Silver • Nevada Mozzarella, Sand Hill Dairy, Fallon, Nevada.
Ballard Cheese won the gold for its Danish Pearl Gouda, which it suggests serving with apples, pears or berries.
Silver • Left Hand Brewing Nitro Beer Cheese, MouCo Cheese, Fort Collins, Colo. Bronze • Doorstop Gouda, Flathead Lake Cheese, Polson, Mont.
MouCo Cheese of Fort Collins, Colo., also won gold in this category, for its Camembert.
Silver • Treasure Brie, Park City Creamery, Heber City, Utah. Bronze • Chèvre, Mesa Farm Market, Caineville, Utah.
Sheep or goat milk cheeses
Caputo’s in Salt Lake City took both gold and silver here. The gold went to Mesa Tome, a cave-aged goat cheese created in a joint effort with Mesa Farm Market. Barely Legal is an unpasteurized goat’s milk cheese, also cave-aged, which gives it a “mellowed tanginess,” Caputo’s says.
Bronze • White Goat Nuggets, Park City Creamery, Heber City, Utah.
Red Butte Hatch Chili, the Best of Show cheese, took the gold in the competition’s largest category, which includes cheeses with other items (such as vegetables, spices and herbs) mixed in. The silver went to Jalapeño Cheddar from Hollow Farms in Stockton, Utah.
The bronze medal was a four-way tie: Black Pepper Cheddar and Cowboy Cheddar, both also from Hollow Farms; and Smoked Jalapeño Bacon and Wasatch Back Jack, both from Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, Midway, Utah.
Two Utah products — Silver Queen Goat Cheese with Ash from Park City Creamery in Heber and Barely Buzzed from Beehive Cheese Company of Uintah — tied for the gold-medal honors in this category, where other items (like herbs) are rubbed on the exterior of the cheese.
The Silver Queen Goat Cheese with Ash is doughnut-shaped and all edible, including the rind. It’s a goat cheese that tastes like a French brie, with fruity, grassy, mushroomy notes, made by Park City Creamery owner and cheesemaker Corinne Zinn, who grew up in Belgium.
Silver • Ashley, MouCo Cheese, Fort Collins, Colo. Bronze • Lemon Lavender Cheddar, Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, Midway, Utah.
The rest of the plate
Alicia Konzen, who works at Caputo’s in Salt Lake City, happily admits that “most of my paycheck goes right back” to the store. A former employee at Beehive Cheese, one of her ideas for the holidays is to put a gooey type of cheese (such as a raclette) into a puff pastry, bake it and then top it with a jam or preserve — perhaps one of the sauce and spread winners below.
Gold • Chorizo, Grotto Meats, Bozeman, Mont. Silver • Old Fashioned Cocktail Charcuterie, also from Grotto Meats.
Gold • Rango Honey of Tempe, Ariz., took the gold for its Mesquite Honey — which was also a Best of Show trophy winner — and bronze for its honeycomb. The silver medal went to Franklin County Honey, The Owl Club, Preston, Idaho.
Gold • Country Sourdough, Mooonbread, Draper, Utah.
Sweet sauces and spreads
Gold • Citrus Black Pepper Berry, Butcher’s Bunches, Logan, Utah. Silver • Huckleberry Pepper Jam, Sweet Heat Co., Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Bronze • Dirty Diana, another win for Butcher’s Bunches.
Savory sauces and spreads
Gold • Roasted Garlic Pepper Jelly, Sweet Heat Co., Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Silver • Black Label Sauce, Z’s Hot Sauce, Ogden, Utah. Bronze • Viking Blood Hot Sauce, also from Z’s Hot Sauce.
Judging for the awards occurred in two sessions, with two groups of judges. They included Tosha Rustad, chef and owner at Cafe La Muse d’Or in Salt Lake City and Dave Irish, manager of USU’s Aggie Creamery.
— Freelancer Ty Bronicel contributed to this report.