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It might be obvious, but Anna Thomas Bates abides by a certain rule when it comes to making a grilled cheese sandwich: The cheese is the star. It’s a simple rule for a simple sandwich, but if you use quality cheese, you’re bound to reach pan-fried perfection.
That philosophy has helped Thomas Bates collect awards at the last four consecutive Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship contests. While some competitors border on mad scientist with their creations at the annual Dodgeville event, which drew 73 contestants and 133 entries this year, Thomas Bates lets the cheese shine in her sandwiches, and she has the hardware to prove it.
Proudly displayed inside Landmark Creamery — the Paoli cheese business she owns with cheesemaker Anna Landmark — are Thomas Bates’ four impressively tall trophies from the contests. Three are from the professional classic grilled cheese division in which she won with a sandwich using Landmark Creamery’s Anabasque cheese, a washed rind sheep’s milk cheese. “It just has a lot of flavor,” Thomas Bates says. “It melts well but has a bit of funkiness and it’s nutty.” The other award is from the professional classic plus extras division. She won first place in 2017 with a raclette-style sandwich with Anabasque cheese, Cornichon pickles and Underground Meats pork rillettes. “If I’m going to use meat, it’s as a seasoning,” she says.
These are certainly not the only awards Landmark Creamery has claimed. The cheese company launched its business with its Petit Nuage, a fresh sheep’s milk cheese, which won gold medals at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in 2015 and 2017.
Thomas Bates parlays her grilled cheese-making prowess into a stellar in-store offering of three regular grilled cheese sandwiches using Landmark’s cheeses, Madison Sourdough bread and only a handful of condiments, including Quince & Apple preserves.