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The big cheese
Luis Chagoya prepares cheese at Emmi Roth on Friday. Chagoya has worked at Emmi Roth for eight and a half years and is the second-shift production supervisor. To order a reprint of this photo, visit (Times photo: Marissa Weiher) To order this photo, click here.
MONROE - It's the best of the best, literally.

The Grand Cru Surchoix, a smear-ripened hard cheese, made by Emmi Roth USA in Monroe was dubbed the 2016 World Champion cheese during the World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison on Wednesday.

The name "Surchoix" translates to "best of the best," a name befitting the cheese that earned a score of 98.8 from 16 judges from around the world.

And it truly is the best: The prestigious world championship is held every two years and attracts cheeses from all over the world - this year, there was a record-setting 2,955 entries from locations as far away as Denmark and New Zealand. The cheese is the first American entry to win the overall top prize since 1988.

The cheese is part of Emmi Roth's Grand Cru line. It is Alpine-styled and cured for a minimum of nine months. It is described as having caramel and mushroom undertones, and is for sale locally at Alp and Dell Cheese Store for $9.99 per pound.

Vanessa Bailey, Emmi Roth senior brand manager, said the cheese has been selling more rapidly since winning the championship this week. Because it's labor intensive to produce, Emmi Roth makes an average of just 30,000 pounds per year of the cheese; the company can produce more than 1 million pounds per year of more common varieties.

The product must be flipped repeatedly during the curing process, and good bacteria must be hand-smeared along the rind.

"This is a pretty special cheese," Bailey said. "It sets apart from the mainstream.

"What makes it special is that a lot of our practices are traditional to Europe. Or in our case, Switzerland."

Emmi Roth USA has won awards at the World Championship Cheese Contest before, and also claimed second place in the smear-ripened hard cheeses for its Roth's Private Reserve. But to be named best of the best throughout the globe has been an honor to those who spend each day perfecting their product.

"At the company, there is a sense of feeling proud, and we're still absorbing," Bailey said. "It's the biggest thing we've ever won. But we're staying humble. Everyone is still going about their business as they usually do, it's just with a bit more spring in their step."