Food Quotes – cheese grater

“‘One of the very first things that I joked with Rob (Delaney) about was how, if it wasn’t so hard to get a divorce, I would be divorced,’ (Sharon) Horgan says.  In his standup routine Delaney sometimes equates marriage to ribbing yourself with a cheese grater, rubbing your wife with a cheese grater, and then smashing the exposed flesh, blood, and sinew together so that you heal as a single mutilated being.”

Willa Paskin,  “The Brutal Romantic: Sharon Horgan’s comedy “Catastrophe” offers an unblinking look at coupledom,” The New Yorker, 4/25/16.

Some great cheeses from Des Moines (ACS 2016)


We tasted a lot of great cheese in the judging room.  I’m sure there were dozens of cheeses in categories I didn’t get to try or that finished a close second in their categories.  Here are a few cheeses that I judged that I gave serious consideration to voting for as “Best of Show.” For info about the judging process, see my previous post “ACS Cheese Judging” and the post by Janee, “The Mobile Monger,”  “Judging and Competition.”

Little Mountain, Roelli Cheese Company, Best of Show


Check out the paparazzi!

You all know I like the Roellis. Heck, I devoted most of a chapter in Cheddar to their story because it exemplified the realities of cheddar-making so well: a family factory making commodity cheddar just can’t stay in business anymore unless they find other cheeses to make. Little Mountain is an Alpine-style cheese, originally modeled after Appenzeller, but modified to work with the local environment of Shullsburg, Wisconsin. (Jeanne Carpenter did a great write up of this here that you should read.)  This cheese was made to honor the Roelli’s family cheesemaking heritage and we all know Chris Roelli has been struggling to make this cheese perfect for a long time. Looks like he finally did it! Not a dry eye in the house when Chris and Kris walked up to accept their Best of Show ribbons, especially theirs.

Buff Blue, Bleating Heart Cheese, tie 2nd place


What can I say, I love these cheeses and Seana Doughty does California proud with every cheese she makes. My personal fave is the drought-friendly Double Down, a sheep/cow blend but this buffalo milk blue is really special: rich and meaty in an uncommon way and not afraid of being moldy. Heartwarming too because Bleating Heart was on the ropes not too long ago. On a personal level, I hope that this win puts Seana’s cheese in counters all over the country. She deserves it.

St Malachi Reserve, The Farm at Doe Run, tie 2nd place

Artisan cheese is still regional to some extent, and I so hadn’t heard of this cheese before this conference. I have carried some soft Farm at Doe Run cheeses, so when this was announced I didn’t even realize it was in my own top tier of cheeses while judging. I was sitting in the airport at Denver, waiting for my connecting flight, when I was all, “OMG this is that amazing aged gouda!” Caramel, toasty, meaty, and salty/sweet/sharp. I would say that this is the best gouda made in the USA if not for my love for….

Jeffs’ Select Gouda, Caves of Faibault, tied for 3rd

This is a seasonal, grass fed cheese that I have loved for a long time. The apostrophe is not in the wrong place, it’s the project of two Jeffs: Jeff Jirik and Jeff Wideman. Again, sweet and earthy and caramel and sharp. Glad to see this cheese get some recognition after all these years.

Greensward, Murray’s Cheese/Jasper Hill, tied for 3rd

This is basically a small format Winnimere, made for Murray’s cheese and it’s every bit as awesome as you’d expect. One of the most complex soft cheeses you will ever try and I have written about it a few times over the years. This is the kind of cheese that just wasn’t made in this country 20 years ago. That’s why I keep talking about the cheese renaissance!



Harbison, Jasper Hill

The complexity of flavor and incredible balance of this cheese makes it just an incredible accomplishment. Just another one of America’s best cheeses.  I have loved this cheese for a long time now and, honestly, I thought it was the best Jasper Hill cheese in the competition, though it was a very close call.

Providence, Goat Lady Dairy

I had no idea what this cheese was until, like the St Malachi Reserve, I figured it out in the Denver airport. I don’t know much about this cheese, but based on the sweetness, I would guess it’s based on a goat gouda recipe. This is just an excellent aged goat, very complex with great depth of flavor, and wonderful texture.

Bella Vita, Firefly Farms

This is an aged goat milk cheese with the delicate complexity of a great Sardinian Pecorino (Yes, I know that comparison switched milk types). A little more subtle than some of the winners, but a cheese with an aftertaste that may have been the best aftertaste of the show.

Labne, Karoun Dairies


OK, it’s unlikely a fresh cheese will ever win Best of Show at ACS because it’s hard to compare the complexity of an alpine or washed-rind cheese to a “simple” one, but man, this is the best Labne I know of in the USA. I just want to let you know, Labne, I see you. I see you. I eat this at work almost every day with honey and fresh fruit. (This is an old picture. I think it costs $2.39/ea now.)

Red Hawk, Cowgirl Creamery


In the Bay Area, sometimes people forget how damn good this cheese is. Tasting it again amongst the best of categories, I was reminded how good and grassy and rich and slightly pungently balanced this cheese is. We are lucky to have it as a local standard.

Prufrock, The Grey Barn

I have literally never heard of this cheese before. If you are near Massachusetts, I would seek it out. Incredibly well-balanced washed rind cheese: a touch pungent, fatty, and nuttier than one would expect for the style. I didn’t think about it much but when I tasted it, I assumed it was Canadian. Cheese people know, that is a huge compliment.


There were lots of other great cheese but these were the cheeses that spoke to me in that room. Remember that cheeses in competition are the best of that day, and so results may vary – both directions — at stores. Overall though, every year I judge there are more serious contenders for Best of Show and higher scores overall through every one of my categories.  Amazing job everyone!



ACS Cheese Judging

Judging was great, like usual. I am in awe of the way that every year has more entries and yet the process gets smoother and smother. Think of the logistics of receiving, organizing, logging, and tempering 1843 cheeses… it’s really pretty amazing. I’m indebted to all these folks for doing the behind-the-scenes work.*

Every year, people ask me for details about the judging so this post is hopefully going to answer those questions. There were 21 teams of judges this year, the most ever. Each team consisted of a technical judge and an aesthetic one. Technical judges are almost all dairy scientists with a few other well-recognized experts thrown in for good measure. Aesthetic judges are recognized as the prettiest people working in cheese so I was really happy to be chosen again. I still have it at 48 I guess… I credit all the butterfat.

See, here’s my most recent picture. It was taken yesterday (unlike my author photo!)


Seriously though, the aesthetic judges are people who have worked in cheese for a while, shown some degree of expertise, and usually have more retail/distributor experience than scientific training.* The American Cheese Society judging system pairs these two types of judges in order to recognize the importance of technical rigor to cheesemaking, but also acknowledge that imperfect cheeses and unexpected flavors can create amazing cheese as well. The technical judge is the bad cop, starting at 50 and taking away points for defects. The aesthetic judge is the good cop, starting at zero and awarding up to 50 points. The scores are combined for a possible, but unlikely, total of 100.

We taste about 40-50 cheeses on day one and another 40-50 at the beginning of day two in order to get through all the categories. Later in that second day, we reconvene to taste the winners from every category and decide on our individual favorites. We rank those 1-3 and they receive weighted points which are then added up to decide the Best of Show. It’s gruelingly awesome! It’s an endurance of amazement! It teaches lactose tolerance!


A score of 100 is unlikely but this year we had a first in the history of ACS… a four way tie for 1st place in the “Open – soft-ripened cheeses – Made from cow’s milk” category. Since I got to try all four during the Best of Show process, I can attest that they were all amazing cheeses and it would have been hard to deduct or not award full points. Mountian Ash by Sweet Rowen Creamery, Ashley by MouCo Cheese, and Harbison and Moses Sleeper by Jasper Hill got the blue ribbon(s) and these are some of the best soft-ripened cheeses made in this country for sure. Twenty years ago, it would have been hard to conceive of these being made in the USA. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in this cheese renaissance.

Other judges have their own methods, but when I am deciding on BoS I have a system.  First I go through the room tasting all 100-or-so cheeses taking notes on my favorites.  This usually eliminates all but about 20 cheeses.  Then I go through and taste all of those again deciding on the cheeses that I would feel good about voting for in my three BoS votes. This number varies from year-to-year.  Sometimes I have an obvious top three. Sometimes I consider about a dozen very seriously.  This year I settled in on a top seven or eight, any of which I would have been happy to see win the big title.


(photo by Rachel Perez)

Mostly, I don’t know until the awards guide is released after the Awards Ceremony who I voted for. It’s a blind judging. However, as a monger, I regularly handle some cheeses that are very distinctive so a few times every judging I have to remind myself to judge the cheese, not the sometimes long history I have had with a cheese. I feel like I do that with integrity partly. I am so honored to be asked to judge this competition, I would do nothing less. All five cheeses** that placed in Best of Show were in my top tier so I felt pretty on par with most of the other judges, based on the result.

I love the purity of those two days before the conference starts. I know I have said this before, but the cheeses have to speak for themselves for likely the only time in their lives in that judging room. No sales pitches, no heart-warming origin stories, no brokers, no prices, no labels. I feel like it re-calibrates my cheese senses, especially being in a quiet room instead of a store and sitting next to a technical judge instead of a sales rep. Thanks ACS!



*I was going to link to the letter from John Antonelli, Judging Chair, but it’s not online yet.  I will link to this when it’s up because I don’t want to forget anyone or not acknowledge folks who were so far behind the scenes that I didn’t see them.

**Someone asked me so I looked it up, I was asked to judge at ACS for the first time after working 13 years in cheese.

***I will talk about them, and others, in my awards ceremony post.

Des Moines CheeseCon!

Whew! Another CheeseCon in the books. Des Moines turned out to be a nice little big town and it was great to see all the cheese folks again.  Thanks to everyone who came by my book signing.  We sold out of Cheesemonger in about 5 minutes and almost sold out of Cheddar!


One of the many reasons I like to be a judge for the cheese competition is that I get to get to the conference town early. Within 15 minutes of arriving I was doing a judge’s training. However, less than 3 hours after getting off the airplane I was eating a loose meat sandwich and drinking an Iowa beer.

Des Moines was interesting. To someone who lives in a dense urban environment like San Francisco, downtown Des Moines just seemed abandoned most of the time. Yet, there is construction everywhere.* I hear it’s a growing city so I guess they are planning for an urban loft-living future but man, I couldn’t even find a corner store. How are you supposed to drink on the streets of a city without a corner store?


Don’t get me wrong, the river is beautiful and I loved the old buildings and all the public art. It will be interesting to come back in a few years and see how it’s changed. All the Iowans seemed super nice though and my cheddar class** – filled with locals (with a few notable exceptions) – was awesome and engaged. The Cheese Shop of Des Moines had the feel of a place where you just want to spend some time. C.J. and everyone there are doing a great job.


The good feeling from the city carried over to the conference for me. This ACS really exemplified all the good things in the world of cheese, especially one of the things that historically makes our world special: cooperation.  From the French alps, to the refusal of Jesse Williams to patent his cheddar-making methods and factory, to the very founding of ACS forty-some years ago, this is one of our best traditions. I mean yeah, I work in a co-op so I look for cooperation, but writer Simran Sethi, who has attended numerous food trade events, brought this up with me at lunch, a little surprised at how much information is free at ACS and that people really share their knowledge, not just their contact information so you could hire them later.

So thanks to all the other attendees, and planners, and organizers for making our conference so special! I really do think most of us come back from this week as better cheese workers and better people.




*I heard that our conference hotel was originally supposed to be that hole in the ground next to the convention center, but construction is behind schedule.

**You can’t make this up… master cheesemaker Willi Lehner called the Cheese Shop of Des Moines while I was speaking. In fact, if he had called ten minutes later, I would have been talking about his Bleu Mont Cheddar and he could have heard about himself on speakerphone. The cheese world is very small!


Food Quotes — Abbey

“I take my shirt off and hang it over a chair; the sweat-soaked armpits will dry within five minutes, leaving a time of salt along the seams. Hastily I assemble a couple of sandwiches: lettuce, left-over bacon from breakfast, sliced ham, peanut butter, salami, longhorn cheese, cashews, raisins horseradish, anything else that will fit comfortably between two slices of bread – and take the dewy pitcher of juice and hasten outside and through the storm of sunlight over the baking sandstone of the 33,000 acre terrace to the shade and the relative coolness of the ramada.

“The thermometer nailed to a post reads 110 degrees F, but in the shade, with a breeze and almost no humidity, such a temperature is comfortable, even pleasant. I sit down at the table, pull off my boots and socks, dig my toes into the gritty, cleansing sand. Fear no more the heat of the sun. This is comfort. More, this is bliss, pure smug animal satisfaction. I relax beneath the sheltering canopy of juniper boughs and gaze out squinting and blinking at a pink world being sunburned to death.”

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire 1968

Food quotes — Mina

I’ve collected a lot of food quotes over the years.   I figured I’d start sharing them here.

This is from a novel I read on vacation:

“He knew a lot of people came to eat here, paid the high prices, because of what was implied by eating in the Paddle Café. Organic, local, farmers’ market. Nose-to-tail. Seasonal. All the hollow pro-words he used to give a fuck about. It was an underground movement when Boyd got into it. At one time he’d cared about it with the same fevered certainty that his minister father had for his faith. Past heresy, his father used to say, was the present orthodoxy: the food revolutionaries now found themselves unwilling high priests of a bland new consensus.”

Demise Mina, Blood Salt Water (An Alex Morrow Novel).

Des Moines is almost here

Wow, I can’t believe I will be getting on a plane for Des Moines in less than two weeks. I am really excited to go, not just for the American Cheese Society conference, but because I’ve never been to Des Moines and it seems like a fun town. I mean, look what they did to the YMCA Building for fun on a Saturday night:

I will be there early for judging, so I am actually doing a cheddar class at the awesome Cheese Shop of Des Moines on the Monday before the conference.  It was close to sold out when I talked to CJ a couple of weeks ago, but if you are in town, you should come. Lots of cheddar!  I will also be signing copies of my books at the conference on Friday from 11:30-Noon.

For you last minute folks, I am doing a talk at Pt Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company’s regular farm tour tomorrow (Friday July 15). Tickets with the book included are sold out, but there are still (cheaper) slots that give you all the other benefits and hopefully my talk will convince you to buy a copy or two. look at all you get for that! Cheese, beer, cows, Giacominis, and me!