Tag Archives: ACS 2013

ACS 2013: The Judging

DSC00020

I spent my first two days in Wisconsin in the judging room of the Monona Terrace Convention Center. It was a day and a half before I realized that I could open a door on the other side of the room and walk out into an adorable Frank Lloyd Wright lobby and an incredible panorama view of the lake. And I do mean incredible. Water skiers were performing stunts and jumps. The view was so big that you could almost see the curvature of the earth, Wow.
DSC00038

My home county in California actually has a Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center so this felt oddly home-like. I was told later that the Madison building was actually delayed for years due to haters, but that was a blessing in disguise since they were able to omit some Wright features like the unplanned, rain-caused fountains that destroyed part of the library and have cause numerous problems over the years back home.

I have written this before but I will say it again, the things I like the most about judging is the purity of it. Just me, my teammate technical judge, our triers, and our mouths. No packaging, no stories, no sales pitches, no loyalty and no having to assess whether a cheese will sell. Just pure cheese appreciation and love.
DSC00021

My partner this year was Russell Smith, an Australian cheese dude who spends much of his time teaching other food professionals how to taste and assess cheese (and other foods.) He is also involved with a deer milk cheese project in New Zealand which was supposed to be a secret, but isn’t anymore.
DSC00027

Yes, I did write “deer milk.”

We tasted a lot of cheese. About 100 cheeses in the evaluation round and then all category winners (81 this year) to determine Best of Show. This year set another record with nearly 1800 cheeses entered into the competition.

Every judge gets their share of flavored categories and we got ours: Flavored Butter and Open Cow Milk Cheese with Flavor Added. We also did Open Soft-Ripened Cow, Open* Molded Goat 0-30 days aged, Sheep (or mixed) Milk Blue. The thing that was most impressive this year was how consistently good most cheese was. In the goat category we had, for example, probably 19 of 21 entries were good cheeses that anyone would enjoy. Even the two that were notably not on par with the others didn’t need much work. In the past I almost found a lot more peaks and valleys in most of my categories, but not this year. In fact, I did not spit out even one cheese because I thought it might kill me! That has never happened before.

My take away is that American cheese is getting better and better.

A new thing this year was that the judges were not told who the winners were. Usually we all got to know at the end of the second day of judging. This was great except when we would run in to people we knew had won. Awkward! I still remember Cary and David from Rogue sitting next to me at a conference lunch the year they won Best in Show. They probably thought I was being a huge jerk as I ignored them the whole time and talked to strangers. I was so worried about letting something slip by accident that I didn’t even want to make conversation. It was a big relief this year to not know until everyone else did. There was even an envelope and dramatic pause just like the Academy Awards and everything.

But, that will have to wait for my entry on the Awards Ceremony…

DSC00031_2

Thanks to all my fellow judges and all the volunteers but especially the folks who did the major organizing: David, Todd, Stephanie, John G., Tom, Michelle, Rachel, and John A.

You can see previous judging entries here (this post will be on top but you can scroll down to see more if you are interested)

*As Mervyn’s used to say, “Open, open, open…”

ACS 2013

Oh, another ACS conference come and gone… While I am super happy to be home after 10 days in Wisconsin, I am already missing the camaraderie inherent in putting 1000 of the nation’s most cheese-obsessed people in one room for a week. It really is a special event.
DSC00169

I heard a lot of people refer to this year’s conference as the best ever so thanks first to the organizers: Jeanne Carpenter, Sara Hill, Bob Wills, and the whole ACS staff. Great Job. You make Wisconsin pleasant even with Scott Walker as Governor.
DSC00116_2

During the course of my trip I judged 100 cheeses, tasted another couple hundred, went to a bunch of presentations, visited six cheese plants and three stores, did a cheese/class reading, ate cheese curds in at least five different ways, and basically exhausted myself.

I’ll be doing my usual conference re-cap over the next few days so get ready. We will discuss judging, the roasted pig party, Madison, and a bunch of other cheesy things.
DSC00079

P.S. South Bay folks, don’t forget, I am doing a free reading and mini cheese tasting on Monday night at the Sunnyvale Public Library. Also, anyone near Butte, Montana, I am Skyping in to your library on Friday 8/16. Someday I’d love to come in person.

ACS Best of Show Winners

If you haven’t heard already — the news is at least 12 hours old at this point — the ACS competition winners have been announced. Congrats to everyone!

Best of Show: Jasper Hill Winnimere, VT

2nd Place: Grafton Cheese Co. Bear Hill, VT

3rd Place: (Tie) Bleu Mont Cheddar and Big Sky Grana both by Bleu Mont Dairy, WI

I’ll write up my usual full account of the judging when I get back to town but it was awesome. List of all the winners here.

Cheese Spring Break

Greetings from Cheese Spring Break.* The conference starts today and I’m already exhausted.

Since I got here on Sunday I have tasted 200+ cheeses, visited two farms, seen one huge cheese factory and a matchingly huge anaerobic digester, eaten two orders of fried cheese curds, and talked to hundreds of other cheese professionals, some sober, some not.

It is exactly what CheeseCon in Wisconsin promised to be.

fried curds

Best new thing: they did not tell the judges who won the Best of Show. This means, cheesemakers, that if I am acting weird around you, I am just being socially awkward, not that you won the Grand Prize.

cheese spring break

P.S. cheese-identified individuals, remember I am doing a reading/tasting at Gloriosos Italian Market in Milwaukee on Sunday at noon. $35 includes book!

*Laurie loves to call it this, but I swear we do not throw necklaces of BabyBel at cows for showing us their udders.