Five to six hundred different varieties of cheese from around the world, some of them award winners, are currently being stored, sampled and sold at Ashe County Cheese in West Jefferson.
The cheeses are what’s left over from 2,600 entrants to the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest, which took place March 18-19 in Madison, Wisconsin.
The cheese contest takes place every two years.
“Every two years, sellers send in so much cheese, most is for display (at the contest),” Josh Williams, co-owner of Ashe County Cheese, said. “If it’s a 22 pound wheel (of cheese), judges take a small sample out of it and judge on appearance, taste and other factors”
Williams said between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds of cheese remained after this year’s contest. Every year, at festival’s end, organizers take cheeses from all categories, split them into quarters and sell them to four different buyers.
This year, Ashe County Cheese was selected as one of the buyers.
“We were contacted to see if we’d take a quarter of the cheese,” Williams said.
A quarter of cheese from this year’s contest equates to over 10,000 pounds of cheeses from around the world on 14 wooden pallets, all of it currently being housed at the company store on East Main Street in West Jefferson.
A post on the company’s Facebook page said 300 different types of cheese were at the company’s store, but Williams said probably closer to 500 or 600 different varieties of cheese.
Williams wouldn’t specify exactly how much the cheese cost.
Most of the cheeses are “high end” and market anywhere from $15 to $20 per pound, according to Williams.
“There are seven different categories,” Williams said. “Some we’re familiar with, like the goudas and mozzarellas. Others from open classifications, we’re not even sure what they’ll taste like.”
Williams said there are some wheels of cheese that they won’t know what it is until they cut into and sample it.
There are cheeses from South Africa, Croatia, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada and other countries as well. There’s also plenty of cheese from the U.S. Wisconsin and Vermont were both well-represented at the contest.
Williams said Ashe County Cheese plans to offer samples and sell the cheeses to customers “until it all runs out.”
Some of the cheeses are already available for sale in a case towards the front of the store.
“We’ll start offering the cheeses with shorter shelf-life first,” Williams said. “We’ll work through them as soon as possible.”
Those cheeses with a short shelf-life are soft cheeses like brie, spreads and some semi-hard cheeses, according to Williams.
After they go through the soft cheeses, Williams said they plan to start offering most of the hard cheeses, many of which have a shelf-life that runs from June to October.
Ashe County Cheese will begin offering samples of one cheese per-week, starting this week. The sampling will continue into the summer and last until the final wheel of cheese remains. When that will be is entirely dependent on supply and demand.
“This is a good opportunity for people to taste cheeses from around the world,” Williams said.
More information on the World Championship Cheese Contest is available at www.worldchampioncheese.com.
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.