Ladies and gentlemen, time to start working on your night cheese.

The World Championship Cheese Contest will return to Madison March 18 and 19 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center. The contest was started in 1957 and has always been held in Wisconsin. It was first held in to Madison in 2000.

According to the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, there are about 2,600 entries in the cheese and butter sections. As of 2012, these sections included 82 separate categories such as mild cheddar (aged between zero and three months), soft and semi-soft mixed milk cheeses.

Jane Cisler, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said the entries in the contest will be graded on a number of factors including deformities in the cheese, overall level of bitterness, flavor and color.

These factors will be scored by expert judges that have been selected from 19 nations and 14 U.S states to make a total of 50, she said.

The judges form an international panel ranging from Mike Pederson of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to Roland Barthelemy, president of the French Guild of Fromagers, according to a statement from the association.

Cisler said not many of the participants actually attend the event in person, as many are from foreign countries such as Switzerland and Norway. These participants ship their products to Wisconsin to be judged in the contest.

“We have an awards ceremony in April where the participants are flown in if they win an award,” Cisler said.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, cheese from the Dairy State captured 38 percent of the total medals given out in 2012 and typically ranks number one among states within the U.S.

The contest will use its website to post live results for cheese enthusiasts across the country. The judges have one-and-a-half days to assess all of the cheese presented to them.

Judges will select the world champions at a special charity event at 6:30 p.m. on the 19th.

[Photo from Flickr user Beige Alert]