What’s Hornbacher, the 2024 World Champion Cheese?

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Swiss aged raw cow's milk cheese Hornbacher was named World Champion Cheese at the 2024 World Championship Cheese Contest. Photography: Andy Manis
Swiss aged raw cow's milk cheese Hornbacher was named World Champion Cheese at the 2024 World Championship Cheese Contest. Photography: Andy Manis

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Nicknamed ‘the baked potato cheese’ for its complex umami taste, Hornbacher was until recently only sold in the cheese shop ran by its four-time world champion cheesemaker, Michael Spycher.

Made from raw cow’s milk by mountain dairy Fritzenhaus in Switzerland and named after the river that flows near the farm, Hornbacher is an aged Alpine cheese that is firm and crumbly, with a creamy mouthfeel and savory flavor akin to a freshly baked potato; it offers hints of butter, caramelized onions, mushrooms, roasted nuts and caramel.

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Four-time world champion cheesemaker Michael Spycher and his wife, Monika. Photo: Tom Trachsel Photography

Hornbacher is made by four-time World Champion cheesemaker Michael Spycher for Gourmino AG. The version that won the top gong was Hornbacher ‘Little Brother’ – an 8-month aged variety which Gourmino is set to launch later this year as a ‘younger’ alternative to the 12 month-aged Hornbacher. “Gourmino's decision to launch the Hornbacher's junior this year is strengthened by this result,” the company said in a statement. “The 8-month-old Hornbacher impresses with its umami and caramel aroma.”

Spycher’s fourth world cheese champion award follows three others, awarded in 2008, 2020 and 2022 respectively, all for Gruyere, which his dairy also produces. In fact, Gourmino Le Gruyere AOP, which was named World Champion Cheese in 2022, came fourth this year, some 0.225 points behind the gold medal.

Spycher has been making Hornbacher with his team and wife Monika for more than 25 years – and until 2014, the cheese was sold only in their cheese shop.

But with growing demand – including from export markets – led to a decision to expand production, and build a larger cheese cellar, where the cheese matures and is stored until shortly before being delivered to customers.

A close contest

Hornbacher’s and Spycher’s crowning as champions took place at this year’s World Championship Cheese Contest, a 67 year-old technical cheese and butter competition hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison, Wisconsin.

More than 3,300 cheeses from 25 countries and 32 US states entered the competition and were judged by a team of 53 judges from all over the world. The winner and the two runners-up were all hard or semi-hard aged cheeses.

With 84 Best of Class finishes, American cheesemakers earned the highest number of gold medals, with Wisconsin dairy processors claiming 39 first-place finishes, California cheesemakers earning seven, and Illinois cheesemakers claiming five.

Cheesemakers from the Netherlands took home 11 golds, and Swiss cheesemakers finished third in the by-country ranking with eight Best of Class awards.

The Swiss cohort took home the most coveted prize of all, as Hornbacher was named the 2024 World Champion Cheese.

The Swiss cheese, a category and overall winner, narrowly beat the two runners-up with a point tally of 98.98 out of 100.

First runner-up, Artikaas’ Vintage Lot 18 imported by Dutch Cheese Makers, managed 98.923; and second runner-up, Batch #17 by The Farm at Doe Run from Pennsylvania, scored 98.915.

Vintage Lot 18, a Gouda cheese aged for 18 months, also took the Best of Class gong in the category of Gouda, Extra Aged (over 10 months). Vintage Lot 18 preciously won second place in the same category in the 2020 contest.

Meanwhile, The Farm at Doe Run’s Creamery Collection Batch #17, a hard aged cheese made of a mix of goats milk (80%) and cows milk (20%), also won first place in its category before coming as second runners-up in the competition. The Coatesville-based dairy’s St. Malachi Reserve – which “resembles a combination of a Dutch washed curd and French Alpine cheese” according to the farm’s co-cheesemaker Matt Hettlinger - also claimed first place in its category, while Mayfly, a Camamber-style cheese, received third place in the camembert category.

John Umhoefer, executive director at the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, congratulated Michael Spycher. “Congratulations are in order for Michael Spycher on achieving the incredible feat of a fourth Best of Show finish at the World Championship Cheese Contest,” he said. “His win with Hornbacher follows three others, in 2022, 2020 and 2008 with Gruyere, demonstrating his commitment to excellence in the art and science of cheesemaking.”

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The judges show this year's winner and runners-up, from left: Artikaas Vintage Lot 18, Hornbacher, and Creamery Collection Batch #17. Photography: Andy Manis

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