(WFRV) – The state of Wisconsin lived up to its “Dairy State” nickname on Thursday, earning more “Best of Class” designations than any other state during the 2023 United States Championship Cheese Contest.

But the most prestigious award of the national contest didn’t go to a cheese from America’s Dairyland or even a neighboring Midwest state — but rather from a cheesemaker further northeast.

“And the winner is … Europa, an Aged Gouda made by Arethusa Farm Dairy in Bantam, Connecticut!” officials with the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest wrote on Facebook. “Congratulations to Head Cheesemaker Eric Schmid and the Arethusa team on earning the coveted title of U.S. Champion Cheese.”

The top-tier cheese was described as “heavenly” by judge Cathy Strange, who told the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association that the winning gouda had a unique complexity that leaves a “visceral memory on your tongue.”

Cheeses from Wisconsin took second and third place: The first runner-up was a raw-milk American cheese variety from Team DACC in Egg Harbor, while the second runner-up was a medium cheddar from Dillon Sylla for Associated Milk Producers Inc. of Blair.

Wisconsin also took home 54 of the “Best of Class” finishes of the 113 total classes being judged at the 2023 event — the most of any state. Cheesemakers in California followed behind with nine wins, and Idaho finished third with eight. (A full list of winners can be found at the contest’s official site.)

“The men and women of the U.S. dairy processing industry are exceptionally passionate and dedicated to crafting quality products, and that commitment shines through in the high caliber of this year’s winners,” John Umhoefer, the executive director for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said in a statement issued Thursday. “We congratulate them on their hard-earned and well-deserved success.”

The United States Championship Cheese Contest was held between Feb. 21–23 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The contest, which is hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, has been held every two years (with an exception amid the pandemic) since 1981.