A cheesemaker at Sartori Foods in Antigo, Wis. was named the 2006 Grand Master Cheese Maker at the Wisconsin State Fair this week. And although Joel Pagel -who competed against 21 other cheesemakers for the coveted “Grand Master” title – does not get an official fez with gold tassel, he does go home with a shiny plaque and the status of being one of Wisconsin’s top cheesemakers.

Pagel earned the honor for Asiago, a well-known cheese made by the former Antigo Cheese Company, which Sartori Foods purchased in July. However, Antigo – now Sartori – is probably much better known for its Stravecchio Parmesan, a continually rising star in specialty cheese that’s been well-decorated in contests for years, including a gold medal and the prestigious accolade of “Best U.S. Cow’s Milk Cheese” at the World Cheese Awards, an international competition held in June 2006 in London, England.

I’ve never had the privilege (few have) to see Antigo’s one-of-a-kind cheese curing room – one of only two such in the nation and a Wisconsin treasure. Many millions of dollars of inventory flows through that room with a huge impact on the local economy. The cheeses in that room develop their distinct and award-winning flavors through the company’s unique curing methods. Obviously they’re doing something right – awards keep flowing their way.