Finally, here’s my last entry on my favorite new (to me*) cheeses at this year’s American Cheese Society Conference. This is one of the things that differentiates me from other food bloggers… I feel no need to be timely.
Out of respect for the cheese makers, I probably wouldn’t reveal what cheese I voted for as Best in Show if the cheesemaker for the actual winner hadn’t pulled me aside at the awards ceremony and asked me point blank if I voted for his cheese. The Best in Show winner: Extra-Aged, Pleasant Ridge Reserve** is an amazing cheese. Forage-based, nutty, pungent, grassy, great for cooking, even better for plain ol’ eating, this is the only cheese to win the ACS Best of Show more than once and this is the third time!
It was especially poignant that these folks won this year because the founders of the company, Mike and Carol Gingrich, announced that they were retiring from the cheese business a week after the conference. The cheese will carry on in the very capable hands of Andy Hatch, but when I found out that this was the Gingrich’s last conference, I was very glad they won. I also know I was not the only cheese person with tears in his eyes when they walked up through a standing ovation to accept their award.
The cheese I voted for Best of Show…
The Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery Bonne Bouche. I wrote about this cheese years ago, before it was actually released actually,*** because I happened to be in Vermont when they work working on their final recipe. Since then, this cheese has been perfected. I am not hyping you when I say that the Bonne Bouche I tasted at the judging was the most technically perfect French-style, US-made, cheese I think I have ever tried. Soft-ripened goat milk cheese, covered in ash, creamy, assertive, and complex. It blew me away.
I love the Spring Brook Tarentaise**** as well. Similar to the Pleasant Ridge, it’s an Alpine-style cheese, but this one is softer but much stronger and more intense. It’s definitely too strong for some, but I love to see a US-made cheese riding that side of the line. I had the previously mentioned Caldwell Crik Chevrette in my top 3 instead of this one, but the Tarentaise was right in there. I had a plate of my final 6 cheeses and it was a very tough decision.
By the way, check out the hall where the awards ceremony was held this year! I wish I had taken a picture when it was full!
*well, up to now it was new to me. I know all the cheeses I’m writing about today pretty darn well
**reservations aside about the confusing near-redundancy of naming something “extra-aged” and “reserve”.
*** Here’s it is in the back of our rental car!
****Most folks in California have only tasted the organic milk Thistle Hill Tarentaise (also from Vermont) which does not have as intense a washed-rind and which is not aged as long as the Spring Brook. They have very similar recipes but are very different cheeses!