- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014
At big cheese contest, it’s not all about the cows

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Cows have long been the stars of Wisconsin’s dairy industry, but goats and sheep get a bigger share of the spotlight when the World Championship Cheese Contest begins Tuesday in Madison.

The record 2,615 cheese and butter entries include more than 350 made with goat, sheep or mixed milk, an increase of nearly 18 percent from the last competition in 2012 and about 65 percent from eight years ago. The tougher competition among so-called alternative milk cheeses reflects greater participation by European cheesemakers, the influence of the local food movement and Americans’ seemingly unending desire for novelty, according to the contest organizer and experts in food trends.

Americans in general eat more cheese than they did a decade ago, with more than four-fifths sampling cheddar, Swiss or another variety at least once in a two-week span, said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, a consumer market research firm.

One reason for that is the United States’ love affair with the sandwich, which is the nation’s most popular food item. The four most popular sandwiches are a hamburger, ham, turkey and a hot dog - and cheese is good on all of them, Balzer said.

Another factor is Americans’ quest for novelty even as they stay within their comfort zone. Consumers can swap goat cheese for shredded cheddar in a salad and feel like they are trying something new, Balzer said.

“Look at all the craft beers that are coming out, but in the end, what are they? Beer,” he said. “We all like to think we’re explorers and we are, but we’re not explorers of the unknown. We are explorers of the known.”

Cheddar and mozzarella remain among the most popular cheeses in consumer research. Less than 1 percent of Americans eat goat cheese regularly, according to NPD’s research. About 2 percent eat feta, traditionally made with goat or sheep milk.

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Open government violations draw few citations

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) - Public officials in Wisconsin can be fined hundreds of dollars for violating Wisconsin’s open government laws, but court records show only seven citations have been imposed across the state in the past five years for open meetings violations, and none for public records cases.

Prosecutors say that’s because officials largely comply with the law and violations typically are best remedied by corrective actions rather than penalties. But Gannett Wisconsin Media (http://shebpr.es/1cJKkKGhttp://shebpr.es/1cJKkKG ) reported Saturday that some residents say another factor is in play - their complaints fall on deaf ears.

After the Appleton Area School District denied Marilyn Bartelt’s request for disciplinary records of employees in the special needs program, she sent a letter to the Outagamie County district attorney seeking intervention. She got no answer.

Susan Lodl uncovered open meetings violations preceding a $500,000 outlay for two wind turbines in her Sheboygan County village in 2010, so she sought action from Sheboygan County’s district attorney. She got no answer either.

“Someone had to do something,” Lodl said.

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