THU AM News: Wisconsin cheeses faring well in international contest; Biden talks infrastructure in Superior

— Wisconsin is faring well so far in this year’s World Championship Cheese Contest, which brings in thousands of product entries and dozens of judges from around the world. 

That’s according to John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. The group has been hosting the international contest since 1957 as part of its mission to improve the quality of the state’s dairy industry. While cheese may be the focus, it also features butter, yogurt, whey and other such products. 

As of yesterday afternoon, when about 120 of the 141 classes were judged, Wisconsin had earned 39 gold medals. That’s compared to 12 for New York, seven for Idaho and three for California. 

“Wisconsin does very well, generally, in the contest,” Umhoefer said yesterday in an interview. 

He explained the contest narrows down about 90 cheese categories that are eligible for the top award to the top 20 before the final winner is selected. The 2022 World Champion Cheese will be announced this afternoon after all the judging has wrapped up. 

This year’s contest includes about 3,000 dairy product entries from 29 countries and 33 U.S. states. While members of the public were not invited this year due to the pandemic, about 60 expert judges and 200 volunteers are taking part. Umhoefer said industry representatives including executives, marketers, researchers and others are also in attendance. 

While the contest itself doesn’t have a large economic impact in the state, Umhoefer said it helps strengthen Wisconsin’s prestige as a global leader in cheesemaking. 

“We’ve got judges here from Switzerland and France and Italy and all around the world — New Zealand, Australia — they don’t question that there’s a cheese contest in Wisconsin,” he said. “It makes perfect sense to them. This really, to them, is the beating heart of the U.S. dairy industry. So it does burnish our reputation.” 

This year’s winning cheese will be announced virtually today at 2 p.m. after the top 20 cheeses are posted. 

“Generally there’s been Wisconsin in there, and generally we’ve had a lot of foreign winners overall actually,” Umhoefer said. “It’s always that battle between those European cheese styles that have been dominating and American. We win a lot of golds and we’re always looking to win that best of show.”

Watch the livestream this afternoon here: 

See more contest details: 

Listen to a recent podcast with Umhoefer: 

— Fresh off his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden held up an aging bridge he visited ahead of a speech on the UW-Superior campus as an example of projects that will be funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law.

Biden said the John A. Blatnik Memorial Bridge in Superior is in trouble “for the same reasons” a bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed just hours before the president’s January visit there to discuss infrastructure.

The 1.5-mile bridge is one of two bridges connecting the city to Duluth, Minn. The bridge has an outdated design and has deteriorated since it opened 61 years ago, Biden said yesterday.

“The bridge is 61 years old and at the end of its useful life, the corrosion over the years has lowered the weight it can sustain and safely handle,” Biden said.

The infrastructure law invests $110 billion in roads, bridges and major projects, with $5.4 billion funneled toward Wisconsin highways and bridges. Funds will be used under the bipartisan infrastructure law to modernize the bridge.

See more from Biden’s speech at 

— Voters continue to be pessimistic about the direction the state is headed, according to the latest Marquette University Law School Poll.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said it is headed in the right direction, while 53 percent say it’s on the wrong track. In October, that split was 41-51.

Sixty-eight percent said they’re very concerned about inflation, while 28 percent are somewhat concerned. That’s a slight bump from the October poll.

Sixty-six percent said they were very or somewhat concerned over unemployment, which was at a record low 2.8 percent in January.

And 61 percent said they’re very or somewhat concerned about the coronavirus “here in Wisconsin,” while 39 percent are not too concerned or aren’t concerned at all.

Meanwhile, the survey also found greater support for marijuana legalization, with 61 percent in favor, 31 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided. 

Support for marijuana legalization has grown among each partisan group since 2013. In the latest survey, it was supported by 51 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats. 

The poll of 802 registered voters was conducted by landline and cell phone Feb. 22-27. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for the full sample.

See the full survey results here: 

— Researchers at UW-Madison have created a new lightweight material that’s more effective at stopping high-speed projectiles than Kevlar, which is used in bulletproof vests. 

Ramathasan Thevamaran, an assistant professor of engineering physics who led the research, worked with colleagues to publish a paper on the material in the journal ACS Nano. 

“Our nanofiber mats exhibit protective properties that far surpass other material systems at much lighter weight,” he said in a release from the university. 

He collaborated with postdoctoral researcher Jizhe Cai to combine Kevlar nanofibers with carbon nanotubes, which are cylinders that are just one atom thick per layer. According to the study, this material performs better than Kevlar alone at blocking the impact of miniscule projectiles moving faster than the speed of sound. 

The material was tested with a “laser-induced microprojectile impact testing system” in Thevamaran’s lab, which fires tiny high-speed bullets. He says it can shoot the projectiles at very precise speeds ranging from 100 meters per second to over one kilometer per second. 

Because hydrogen bonds between the material’s fibers are able to continually break and re-form, it can dissipate large amounts of energy, Thevamaran explained in the release. 

“When we modified the interfacial interactions in our mats by adding Kevlar nanofibers, we were able to achieve nearly 100 percent improvement in energy dissipation performance at certain supersonic impact velocities,” he said. 

The release shows this material could be used in advanced armor materials, both for combat applications like bulletproof vests as well as shielding spacecraft from impacts. The material is stable at both very high and very low temperatures, enabling applications in a variety of environments. 

Study authors are patenting the invention through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. 

See more:  

— The Department of Health Services is urging state residents to respect mask requirements that remain while backing new CDC metrics for determining COVID-19 community-level risk. 

Under the CDC’s new metrics, wearing a mask in public indoor settings is recommended only when the area is experiencing “high” community levels for the virus, or if someone in the household is at high risk for severe disease, according to DHS. 

A CDC map shows just 18 of Wisconsin’s counties were in the “high” category for community levels as of Feb. 24, while the other 54 counties had “low” or “medium” levels. 

The federal agency includes three factors in this measure: new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population over the past seven days, the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and total new cases per 100,000 population over the past week. 

According to DHS, the changes are meant to prevent COVID-19 from further straining health care systems while “allowing communities, organizations, and individuals to make decisions based on their own unique circumstances.” The agency is asking state residents to continue wearing masks where they’re required, such as in health care settings and on public transportation. 

DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake says availability of vaccines, boosters, testing and treatments for COVID-19 has “moved us into a new phase” of the pandemic. 

“Thanks to these tools, we can more effectively prevent or reduce the risk of severe illness due to COVID-19,” she said in a release. “However, this does not mean the pandemic is over. COVID-19 will continue to spread in our communities, so we must be ready to do what we can to prevent it from overwhelming our hospitals and health care systems.”

The guidance comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to fall in the state. Mask mandates in Dane County and Milwaukee recently ended. 

The DHS site shows the seven-day average for new cases has dropped to 600 cases per day. And the Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows 487 patients are hospitalized with the virus, including 94 intensive care patients. All of these numbers are well below where they were in January during the peak of the omicron surge. 

See the DHS release: 

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced $8 million in Neighborhood Investment Fund grants for Rice Lake, Altoona, Menomonie, and Eau Claire. 

The grant funding will be used for business development initiatives, downtown infrastructure upgrades, pedestrian safety measures and affordable housing and shelters, according to a release. The program was announced last year, and is administered by the state Department of Administration. Grants range from $1 million to $15 million and are funded with American Rescue Plan Act dollars. 

“From expanding affordable housing options to strengthening infrastructure and revitalizing our main streets, this grant program was designed to connect the dots in our communities to ensure they recover and succeed for years to come,” Evers said in a release. 

See the release: 


# Biden says infrastructure money will benefit replacement of aging bridge connecting Duluth and Superior

# In the 608: World Championship Cheese Contest underway in Madison

# The Dane County mask mandate is over. Some businesses want it back.



– Adult volunteers sought for Wisconsin State Fair ag programs

– Students sought for Wisconsin Ag Youth Council

– The best cheese curds in the world are made by these Wisconsin cheesemakers


– Building blocks: Lake Country Trail Underpass at State Highway 67 


– Census changes help correct undercount of Wisconsin’s Indigenous population


– DPI funds to help schools with food supply chain issues

– Milwaukee leaders ask state to use budget surplus for Wisconsin schools

– Milwaukee business, education leaders say state surplus funds should be directed to K-12 schools

– Universities spend COVID relief funds on student grants, revenue loss, pandemic impact


– When Exact Sciences, the firm behind the Cologuard commercials, expects its first profit


– Madison fintech startup led by 22-year-old twin brothers just raised $2 million

– Quiver Quantitative closes $2 million funding round


– ManpowerGroup’s Michelle Nettles: As ‘users’ of Milwaukee’s education system, businesses must invest in it


– Justices question accusations of bias in approval of Cardinal-Hickory line

– Green Bay lowers marijuana possession fines


– New Berlin Plastics doubling square footage via new lease

– New Berlin Plastics expands operations with addition of second facility

– Milwaukee Tool’s growth continued in 2021 with nearly 41% increase in sales


– Biden, Cabinet fan out around nation to sell domestic agenda


– Developers propose townhomes, subdivisions that would add 86 housing units in Mequon


– Milwaukee Founder/Fest at Eagleknit will award microgrant to winning entrepreneur


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Pabst Theater Group: Wisconsin businesses, schools and organizations call on Governor Evers, Speaker Vos and Senate Majority Leader LeMahieu to invest in children and schools

Main Street Alliance: On the State of the Union