Tag Archives: ACS 2013

Saxon and Henning’s — just photos

I know I haven’t had a chance to update here much but I was kind of shocked when I saw my last update was from the ACS. That feels like a million years ago. I mean, geez, the holiday pre-orders are rolling into the store already.

So, I think I’m going to just photo dump on you all this week. Here are some cheese highlights of the last few months:

Let’s start with Saxon Creamery in Wisconsin:

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Hennings in Wisconsin. We get our Cheddar curd from here:
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They have an awesome cheese equipment museum too!
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ACS 2013: Some of my favorites

In addition to the cheeses previously mentioned in my Best of Show entry – all of which I loved – These are the other cheeses that caught my tongue at this year’s conference:

During the judging, I tasted this one and was blown away even though I had no idea who made it (and I assumed it was a Oaxaca). Braided Caciocavera from Loveras Market in Oklahoma? Ok, I see why I didn’t already know it. To make it even more special, I keep reading it as “Lovers Market” which seems extra sweet.
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Next, a cheese we already carry and think is awesome, Boonter’s Blue from Pennyroyal Farmstead in Boonville, CA. A mix of sheep and goat milk (though not always) this is the kind of blue I think of as “Basque Style” even though I don’t know if it’s really true. Fudgy, medium-strength blue and you can taste the tang of the goat and nuttiness of the sheep milk.
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Ten years ago, everyone would have been raving about the Florry’s Truckle from the Milton Creamery in Iowa. Now – with Jasper Hill, Fiscalini, Beecher’s, Avonlea, etc. – we expect North Americans to make amazing traditional style Cheddars. Still this is an awesome cheese from the folks who brought us Prairie Breeze.
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Speaking of Jasper Hill, the Willoughby (this is a correction from the original post) right now…. Amazing. Rich, pungent, buttery, yeasty. Definitely in the running for Best of Show by my count.
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And, made by Landaff Creamery and aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill, the Kinsman Ridge is also pretty darn good. As you can see by how little is left.
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And, last year I told you how awesome the Arabella from Jacobs and Brichford was. This year, their Overton blew me away. I don’t think I’ve ever had a US cheese that tasted so much like a well-aged Comte. I guess it blew me away so much that I forgot to get a picture so here’s the Arabella again.
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Also, pretty much everything from Baetje Farms is can’t-miss. I do not think they can make a bad cheese.
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That’s it for now. I am still going through my notes, but these are the cheeses that stuck with me, post-conference.By the way, this tag will let you see the cheeses I have written about as my favorites over the years: American Cheese Society Favorites.

ACS 2013: Festival of Cheese

The Jasper Hill folks only sent three wheels in for judging so, in what will surely become an ACS legend, when they won Best of Show Vince Razionale hopped in a car, bought back the only other currently existing Winnimeres from their distributor and then drove straight from Vermont to Wisconsin to deliver the last remaining wheels just in time for the Festival of Cheese. This was not a quick trip:
(Corrected map below. Vince thought it was prudent to avoid crossing the Canadian border at 2 AM with a case of raw milk cheese)

Thanks Vince! We appreciated it.
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The Festival of Cheese is all about abundance and the beauty of cheese. Here are some pictures of the nearly 1800 cheeses on display.

Tables of deliciousness:
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A bounty of blue:
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Championship Cheddars:
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Boulders of Bismark!
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Big stacks of Brie:
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Some displays seemed like warnings:
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And the evening winds down:
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ACS 2013: Best of Show

ACS 2013 is fading away now. We’ve all gone back to work. The rarefied atmosphere of Cheese Camp is something I think we all try to hold onto a little, but real life intrudes. But… I have a few more posts about ACS to make before I let it go away completely. I mean c’mon, I haven’t even talked about the award ceremony yet.
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In an earlier workshop someone tried to hand me a California flag.* As a judge, who would be sitting in the judge’s area, I felt like I had to refuse but I have to admit it amused me that every time a California cheese won a ribbon, Californians yelled and waved their flags. Doing this in the heart of Wisconsin definitely struck a nerve because I was later pointedly informed by Wisconsinites that Canada took more ribbons than California.** I was also told that they would “take the high road” and not visibly display Wisconsin pride at the awards ceremony in Sacramento next year. We’ll see.
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When I was judging for the Best of Show I did what I usually do. I narrowed it down to about eight cheeses and then gathered a piece of each, sat in a corner of the room, and tasted them off against each other. While entries are anonymous, they have codes on them so that we can place our votes. The cheese company code is always the first number. Imagine my shock when I realized that three of my top six cheeses were from the same company!

My clear #1, though, was Winnimere from Jasper Hill. It’s a seasonal cheese, but they made a special batch just for the competition. It was perfect. Perfectly ripe, grassy, beefy, mustardy, rich, oozy, and complex. This has long been a favorite of mine anyway and it was nice to see it arrive for judging tasting as good as it does in the store. Congrats Jasper Hill folks! This was a well-deserved win.
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And no, you cannot have any until November-ish.

#2 in the Best of Show voting was Bear Hill from Grafton Village Cheese Company. Not just a Cheddar-maker anymore, Grafton has been working on sheep cheeses and different styles. I didn’t vote for Bear Hill but I had it (unofficially) ranked 4th or 5th in my head. 100% “Alpine Style” sheep milk cheese… we are getting some in, but again, not for a couple of months.
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Tying for 3rd place were the two cheeses I ranked 2nd and 3rd.

Both of these were Willi Lehner cheeses. Willi had built amazing caves to age cheese but makes his cheese with other Master Cheesemakers like Kerry Henning and Chris Roelli. The Cheddar was, as always, amazing. One of the best traditional Cheddars made in the US: earthy, grassy, dank, fruity, and sharp. Bleu Mont Cheddar:
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The Big Sky Grana surprised me. Sweeter than I would expect for that style but probably the best US-made hard Italian cheese I have ever had. The Cheddar is available, but the Grana was an experiment (like Willi’s 3rd cheese that I had in my top rankings, the Alpine Renegade) and also not available right now. Still there’s hope for all you folks who “only carry American cheese” but make an exception for Parmigiano Reggiano.*** This cheese is awesome:
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Amazing cheeses people. Amazing…

(I mention the unavailability of these cheeses in the top 4 because, once again, I am teaching a cheese class on the judging. You’ll have to wait on three out of four of the Best of Show winners but the class will be great. You should totally sign up for it. We will talk about the judging process, discuss what judges look for, and taste a lot of 1st place cheeses.)

*Have any of you ever heard this pear thing? I don’t know if I am buying it.
**Let’s pause to remember than Canada is a country, not a state, for comparison purposes.
***cough, cough — cop-out — cough cough.***
****I’m just kidding you guys! I still love you.

ACS 2013: Lifetime Achievement Award for Ricki Carroll

One of the most touching parts of the ACS conference was the Lifetime Achievement Award for Ricki Carroll. I cannot think of anyone who deserves it more. Ricki has dedicated her helping small producers, home cheesemakers and building the ACS. I know her to be an extrememly kind and generous person as well.

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In fact, probably my favorite moment of any I have ever had at ACS was in Chicacgo. I had put together a panel on whether retail (or distributor) affinage was a good idea because it was at the moment when everyone wanted to build a “cave.” Juliana Uruburu, Helder Dos Santos, Carlos Souffront and I talked about handling and caring for cheese and in the Q&A session Ricki got up and said, “I have been waiting for this panel for twenty years.” I seriously almost cried with happiness.

Thanks for everything Ricki! This is a well deserved honor.

ACS 2013: The Curds

I am going back to work today, so I give you a pictorial of curds along the way at ACS. State law says you must eat curds with every meal in Wisconsin.

At the Old Fashioned:
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At Graze:
fried curds

At The Tipsy Cow:
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In the form of poutine at Cooper’s Tavern:
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In their natural form at Clock Shadow Creamery
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ACS 2013: Montchevré visit

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I didn’t realize I was going on the unauthorized bus trip until I arrived at 7:30 in the morning and was told so. No, the ACS volunteers didn’t know where my bus was. No, they had no information. I couldn’t, for the moment, reach the rep who set me up on the trip because she was coming from Iowa which, it turns out, is very close to Wisconsin. Eventually a number of us who had signed on found each other and then the bus, tucked behind the bus for the beer and cheese tour.

I guess I should have realized it was unauthorized when I was told it was free.

I have never been to a goat cheese plant like Montchevré outside of France. It really is something. If you can appreciate factories, and I can, it is a brilliant model of organization, planning and efficiency.

You may think I am being sarcastic or damning with faint praise. I am not. Before one criticizes a cheese factory for being a factory, one should examine oneself. My first goat cheese, being a Californian of a certain time period, was hand-made and fresh, but I would imagine most people’s first goat cheese these days is likely Montchevré.* Even though my first punk album** was on a major label, it did not prevent me from searching out more obscure and, as the years went on, more artisan, bands. Think of Montchevré as a gateway cheese.

This is necessary because many people are scared of goat cheese. C’mon, we can admit it here. This is a safe space for real cheese talk. I still get people asking at the counter for “the mildest goat cheese you have.” Montchevré often fills that niche. Also, as one likes to say when one buys for a retail store, the price point is very good. Don’t be snobby. This country needs cheese factories as well as cheese artisans.
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I will add also though that their Bucheron and goat blue are also very good cheeses. And when we replaced the Montchevré Bucheron for the one made in France we were just replacing one factory cheese for another. Because when I said I had not seen this scale of goat cheese production outside of France, I meant it. Many American cheese-fanciers would be shocked to see the scale of production of the companies that make their fancy not-quite-A.O.C. goat favorites. While French factories like Sevre et Belle still have some women ladling curds by hand for a few specific cheeses (because the phrase “hand-ladled” has a distinct meaning in France), French-owned Montchevré has created a similar model of efficiency. I was surprised to see that much of the Montchevré is actually packed by hand as well.

They even have the curd hammocks that Molly and I could not stop making fun of while on our tour of France. Curd Hammock or Kirk Hammett: You don’t have to choose. You can love both.

Montchevré does have the annoying policy, like Emmi USA, of not allowing pictures in their factories. Fear not, lawyers for Montchevré, that picture linked above is from France. Montchevré did allow us to take picture of the anerobic digester though. This little baby produces power for hundreds of neighboring homes. Mmmmm. Sludge.
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We also got to visit a multi-generational farm that won the award for top farm in the Montchevré system. In fact, this is the farm where their goat cam is set up. What is not to love about goats and cute kids who love kids?
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And check out the goat paparazzi:
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They also served us cake. I love cake.
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They also have the best HACCP-inspired head covering in the business. Everyone was required to wear these, beard or no beard. It makes a great Facebook icon too.
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* Montchevré re-packs until many different labels and names, just fyi. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it may have been your first and you didn’t even know it.

**The Clash, The Clash, even though it was Americanized by the major label it is still one of the best albums ever made.