Squeaky, savory, soft and salty-classic cheese curds have made Wisconsin famous.

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, partnered with Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce and Chippewa Valley Technical College, found a way to capitalize on a curd's flavorful potential ahead of the annual summertime Cheese Curd Festival in Ellsworth.

At a first-ever May 15 Cheese Curd Festival Showcase, nine Cheese Curd Festival vendors showed up to test their creative curd skills. The competition was held at CVTC's new culinary kitchen in Eau Claire.

Three judges were in charge of voting on their favorite dishes: Paul Bauer, CEO of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery; Johnathon Fike, Chef Instructor of the CVTC Culinary Arts Management program; and Jim Kyndberg, Executive Chef at Minneapolis' Union Rooftop Bar & Grill.

The panel of judges evaluated them on four main criteria including creative use of the curds, overall appearance, overall flavor and appeal as a foodie festival food, according to the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce.

"Having the cheese curd recipe contest here shows the ability of the CVTC Culinary program, and brings creative marketing people into the state-of-the art kitchen," Bauer said. "This highlights the college and the entrepreneurs in the area who will be taking part in the Cheese Curd Festival as vendors."

Vendors who participated in the competition:

• Richie O'Neil, Richie's Cheese Curd Tacos' Hot Chick

• Frymaster Gil, The Original Minneapple Pie's Apple Trap Pie

• Myron Marko, Holy Donuts' Breakfast Donut

• Scott Hatella, Consuming Fire's Fiesta Fries

• Matthew Beranek, Smokey Treats BBQ's ABT (A Beautiful Thing)

• Jill Zawierucha, Rush River Orchard & Bakery's Cheesy Caramel Apple Wrap

• Oliver Regal, Regals Concessions' Philly Curdsteak Sandwich

• Cheryl Johnson, Tater Tot Temptations' Rockin Buffalo Chicken Totchos

• Joe Kannel, InHogNito's InHogNito Burger

A few vendors who will be a part of the Cheese Curd Festival this summer were unable to compete due to schedule conflicts.

The winner of the competition was Frymaster Gilbert "Gil" Payne Nevils, III from The Original Minneapple who submitted the 'Apple Trap Pie' and was awarded the cast-iron Festival Favorite trophy.

His masterpiece consisted of hand-made deep-fried apple pie topped with Ellsworth Cheese Curds and The Original Minneapple Pie's homemade apple syrup.

Kim Beebe from the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce Executive Support Team said the unique winning dish proved cheese curds can transcend the savory stereotype and make for a tasty dessert.

Chefs enjoyed their time cooking in the new kitchen facility at CVTC.

"I just love the facilities," Richie O'Neil from Richie's Cheese Curd Tacos said. "I never saw such a sophisticated fryer. It was like a spaceship under there. And it was a really good atmosphere with everyone working in this kitchen."

A few other dishes included were cheese curd tacos by Richie's Cheese Curd Tacos, cheesy caramel apple wrap by Rush River Orchard and Bakery and ABT's (A Beautiful Thing) made of stuffed jalapenos, curds and sausage by Smokey Treats BBQ.

The vendors who participated in the competition will be serving up their curd dishes at the June 21-22 Cheese Curd Festival at East End Park in Ellsworth. Admission to the festival is free.