A national panel of expert judges today named a Wisconsin goat’s milk cheese as the 2011 U.S. Championship Cheese.

Katie Hedrich, of LaClare Farms in Chilton, Wis., took top honors out of 1,604 entries from 30 states for her small-batch Evalon, a hard goat’s milk cheese made from the milk of her family farm’s herd. Out of a possible 100 points, Evalon scored 99.06 in the final round of judging, during which judges re-evaluated all gold-winning cheeses to determine the champion.

Katie was pulling into the parking lot just as her name was announced. Her father, Larry Hedrich, called her at the same time. She said he told her to get inside, because there were going to be a lot of people interested in talking with her. “I told him I moving as fast as I can! I’m trying to find a place to park!”

Katie, pictured here giving an interview at the contest, is only 25 years old. She is one of the youngest cheesemakers to ever earn the U.S. Championship Cheese title, and is only the second woman in the history of the contest to claim the trophy. The first was Christine Farrell, of Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in New York, who won in 2001.

Meanwhile, back at the contest, Wisconsin cheesemakers were heartily celebrating, as the top three cheeses were all from America’s Dairyland.

First runner-up in the contest, with a score of 98.97, was Parmesan, made by John Griffiths at Sartori in Plymouth. Second runner-up was Aged Gouda, made by Marieke Penterman at Holland’s Family Cheese, of Thorp, which scored 98.95. Marieke had three of her Goudas competing for the top spot in the final round.

Capturing the most gold medals was Wisconsin, with 42 of the total 76 categories judged. California came in second among the states, with nine golds. Vermont had five gold medals, Idaho had four golds, while New Jersey, New York and Ohio all took three. Oregon and Pennsylvania won two gold medals, and Kentucky, Michigan and Utah each captured one apiece.

The United States Championship Cheese Contest is the largest cheese and butter competition in the country and is rooted in more than 120 years of history, beginning when the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association held its first cheese contest in 1891. In recent years, the event has flourished, more than doubling in size since 2001. This year, more than 30,000 pounds of cheese were entered into the contest.

Read complete results for all 76 entry classes and view contest photos, online here.