Tag Archives: american cheese society 2012

Great Cheeses from ACS 2012: Part 2

As ACS gets further and further away, I want to round things up with a couple more posts. First off, here is part 2 awesome cheese that I tasted at the conference. I didn’t make it to every booth at Meet The Cheesemaker – and I’ve have mentioned a lot of other great cheeses in previous entries – but these are the other cheeses that caught my attention this year.
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Baetje Farms They simply make some of the best goat cheese in the country. I had never heard of them before I judged the American Dairy Goat Association contest one year and their “St. Genevieve” took 2nd place overall. This year they took two blue ribbons, one for Couer de la Crème and one for Bloomsdale. Amazing cheese, if you can find it. They even have a website now, which they didn’t the last time I wrote about them. From Bloomsdale, Missouri.

Jacobs and Brichford — Arabella Generally, I avoid cheese companies that sound like lawyers, wineries,or bad indie rock bands but this cheese is really good. Basically it is a raw milk, washed rind, farmstead cheese that is basically a Taleggio. But a really awesome Taleggio! Pasture-based seasonal dairy. From Connersville, Indiana.

Rogue Creamery – Oregon Blue The Rogue boys hardly need my help or publicity. Heck, they’ve already won Best in Show a couple of times. I just want to pause and say again how awesome their cheeses are. This year the I actually considered the Oregon Blue for my top three and – generally – I consider that their least interesting cheese. I think I may undervalue that cheese because it is the only one we used to carry before David and Cary took over the company and it gets lost in the Rogue River/Crater Lake/Caveman/Flora Nella excitement. Let me state here and now, this is an awesome cheese too! From Central Point, Oregon.
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MouCo Cheese Company — Ashley
Since I previously mocked Sartori for their inernet spelling of BellaVitano consider MouCo mocked as well. You people are ruining literacy. Get off my lawn! That being said, I would buy this cheese in a second. This won a blue ribbon in the soft ripened cheese category over two of the best soft-ripened cheeses made in the US: Harbison and Green Hill. That should make anyone sit up and take notice. An ashed-rinded cow’s milk cheese that is oozy, rich, buttery, mushroomy, and just plain awesome. Plus on facebook they once posted a picture of a punk rocker working in the aging room so that gets extra bonus points. From Fort Collins, Colorado.

Laura Chenel – Melodie I guess I developed a weakness for ashed cheeses this year… Having tasted Melodie since its early (French-made) versions, I was super impressed with this cheese. It is better than it ever has been and now it’s made in California. I do not know of a better US-made goat brie in this 1 kilo format. Well-balanced tang, rich, great creamy texture. Yum. Made in Sonoma County, CA for the Rians Group, France.
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La Moutonniere — Sheep Feta This ran away with the sheep feta category. Rich, nutty, milky-sweet, and a great balance of salt. I don’t know much about these folks except that they are a farmstead sheep dairy in Quebec. If you up in the Great White North, check ‘em out!
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Beehive Cheese Company – Teahive Once upon a time these folks called me up asking for a quote for an episode of the Today Show where their Barely Buzzed was going to be featured. I don’t know if they have ever really forgiven me for responding with, “Finally, a cheese with stuff in it that doesn’t suck!”* Anyways, Teahive doesn’t suck either. In fact, since it is coated with Earl Grey and Bergamot Oil – combined with Barely Buzzed and its espresso rind – we have been selling the two of them together as a Utah speedball. As always with Beehive’s cheese, the sum is greater than its parts. In all seriousness, don’t be too high and mighty to enjoy a cheese with stuff. This cheese is awesome. From Uintah, Utah.
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Sierra Nevada Cheese Co – Fresh Chevre Sierra Nevada makes the best Cream Cheese in the country and one of the few that is all natural. We have been carrying their bulk fresh chevre for years as well and it is nice to finally see it recognized for the high quality cheese that it is. “Best Chevre” is a bit of an on-any-given-day crapshoot as an award, but this is solidly good and previous under-recognized. From Willows, California.

Nordic Creamery – Goat ButterI tasted this during the Best of Show go-round and was wow’d. This may be the best goat butter I’ve ever had. From Westby, Wisconsin.

*I sent them a usable quote as well! That one was just more forgettable.
**Oh yeah, Karoun won again for their Labne. Simple cheeses never get their full due so let me say that this Labne — along with Bellwether Crescenza and Franklin’s Teleme — is one of the best cheeses made in this country that people just don’t pay enough attention to.

American Cheese Society Conference 2012: My panel

When I committed to judging and doing a panel at ACS, I didn’t really map out the timeline in my head. Here was my schedule for the first few days of ACS:


Monday: Get to SFO at 5:30 AM, Arrive North Carolina 5:30 PM, eat BBQ and try to fall asleep early. Succeeded on the eating, failed on the sleeping.

Tuesday: Meet for judging at 7:30 AM East Coast Time (4:30 my time), judge for 8 hours tasting 50 or so cheeses, drive (thanks again Tim Gaddis and family!) 45 minutes to cheesemonger party (Thanks Alexander Kast and family!). Get drunk, but not enough to be hung over for:

Wednesday: Meet for judging at 8 AM, judge 50 cheeses plus taste another 100 to decide on Best of Show. Find out winners at 7 PM then immediately go to dinner meeting with Debra Dickerson and Jeanne Rodier to discuss panel. Go back to my room and scribble notes until well after midnight.**

Thursday: Do panel at 10 AM to a packed house (because retailers came out in droves for the certification test this year) and collapse into a little puddle.

The best part of this is that I really didn’t have time to get nervous about my panel. When I moderated a panel in Chicago, I was a nervous wreck for days; here I was only a mess for one night!

Our panel was called “Handling Cheese in a Retail Environment” and very quickly I realized the confusion between what we had prepared for and what was expected from the audience. The main theme running the entire conference was food safety. Between the implementation of the Food Modernization and Security Act and the increased enforcement and inspection of creameries and stores there was a lot to talk about and many panels discussing those head on. We were planning a talk on cheese quality, not the legal intricacies of water content and recorded accountability trails, so things went a little off the rails.

Then one of the things that make the ACS great happened. Oh, there’s a question about storage temperatures and the water level of cheese? Oh, let’s call on one of the two dairy scientists who authored the definitive paper on that subject* because she just happens to be in the room. Awesome.

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(Marianne Smukowski hijacking our panel.) 😉

Until I went to the annual business meeting at lunch where these was a remembrance of Daphne Zepos, I had no idea that our moderator was going to be delivering a eulogy to one of her best friends in front of about a thousand people mere minutes after our panel was finished. My hat’s off to Debra because I could not have done that myself. The memorial, and the announcement of the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award, was incredibly moving. Surely not as intimate as the memorial at the Cheese School, but there were few dry eyes in the house, even among the folks who never met her.

*”Storage Temperatures Necessary to Maintain Cheese Safety”, JAY RUSSELL BISHOP and MARIANNE SMUKOWSKI, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, University of Wisconsin, 2006.

**I didn’t even have enough time to make the Culture Magazine event that I really wanted to go to!

When cheese fights back

I guess I have one more thing to say about judging… most of the cheese was good to excellent. But we had one cheese that was so bafflingly bad that we had to call over other judges just to be sure how awful it was.

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It was a mild style of cheese, so when I first put it into my mouth I didn’t expect a blast of flavor. However I didn’t expect to taste an absence of flavor either… literally nothing but texture for one beat, two beats… then, after being lulled into a moment of false security… BAM! incredible, horrid bitterness. It was like a IED made by vegan guerillas. My judging partner and I could have been entered in the synchronized spitting competition in the Olympics trying to get this cheese out of our mouths. The only comparison I can think of for this kind of nasty is getting skunked. Not only was it bad, but it wouldn’t go away easily. We had to take a break to cleanse our pallets: bread, pineapple, melons, milky tea. I needed my tongue for the rest of the day; we had another 25 cheeses to taste.

Another judge who works as a consultant with that style of cheese hovered nervously, hoping he wasn’t associated with it. (He wasn’t, as it turns out.) Mysteriously, all the other cheeses by the same company (I don’t know which company, but the coding system enables judges to know the entries originated from the same place) were pretty good. Judging has its risks and pains, but I have never had a stealth attack from a fresh cheese before. Careful out there folks.

Cheese Vote: 2012

I was going to write another entry on judging, but I think I said everything that I wanted to yesterday. So instead, please vote for whose cheese animal is better:

My “Suggestion of Animal with Pointy Ear”
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Or Luis’s “Pasty Cheese Duck”
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American Cheese Society 2012: Judging

Whenever I get a chance to be a cheese judge at the American Cheese Society Conference, I grab it. I really do love it. I am honored to be asked – and that is part of it – but I love it mostly because it is pure cheese: just me, my mouth, and 1771 anonymous cheeses.

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Of course I don’t have to taste all 1771 (or whatever a given year’s number is). Judges only have to taste around two hundred: one hundred assigned via category, then another hundred that won their class and are competing for Best of Show. Still, it’s a lot of cheese over the course of two days. I am not complaining, however. Not at all.

I have written about judging before, but every competition has its own merits. Many cheese judgings use the 4H method, which is non-numerical. There are variations but usually judges taste and then (in their heads) rate the cheese before announcing “Gold,” “Silver,” “Bronze,” or “No award.” If judges are unanimous on “Gold”, the cheese is awarded “Double Gold” and those go into consideration for Best of Show.

Other competitions are scored technically. Dairy scientists are looking for perfect versions of a cheese by type. You have never seen Wisconsin dairy science folks excited until you see them hotly debating the merits of the Colby category!* Technically perfect cheese usually wins these competitions whether or not they are complex or powerful.

At ACS the technical judges are teamed up with aesthetic judges (cheese professionals who are not dairy scientists) in a good cop/bad cop situation. Technical judges start from 50 and grade down for mistakes. Aesthetic judges start from zero and award points for positive attributes. In this way a cheese may even get deductions and positive points for the same flavor attribute. An extremely sweet Cheddar, for example, may lose a little for not being classic, but may gain a lot if that aesthetic judge sees value in its unusual flavor attributes. This means that both technical cheesemaking and innovation can be rewarded in the same contest. It is also why cheese with big flavors usually wins Best of Show.

I have seen critiques of the ACS judging for this reason. I don’t believe that a technically perfect fresh mozzarella, for example, has ever come close to winning Best of Show. It can win its category, but BoS winners are usually in the Alpine family, blue category, washed-rinds, or aged: in other words, the big flavored cheeses.

(Sorry, Little Guy)
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Which makes perfect sense since the ACS was set up to support cheesemakers making innovative cheese. Almost every cheese that has won in the last decade has been a cheese that, upon tasting, a customer at some point has asked me, incredulously, “That cheese was made in the US?” This comment – once an every day occurrence – is dying out these days as people realize the breadth of cheese styles now being made extremely well in this country. And I think the ACS competition has played a part in that growing awareness.

The other thing I love about the ACS competition is how seriously people take it. I mean sure, my fellow judge and I did make some cheese animals out of pasty, non-winning cheese, but the judging itself, and the writing of commentary on the judging form was our priority. Also, unlike other judgings I have taken part in where – embarrassingly and unprofessionally — people openly discussed the cheesemakers and their history (“Leticia’s*** cheese has gotten so much better over the years. I know she has a new aging room now and it really shows”), that would just not be tolerated at ACS. If the judging committee didn’t notice it, other judges would.****

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Lastly, what everyone – retailers, cheesemakers, cheese eaters reading this etc. — needs to keep in mind is that we can only judge the cheese in the room. I had a cheese that I usually love that was not at its best last week. As a cheese seller of many years, there is no way not to recognize the distinctive characteristics of some cheese, even if I actively avoid acknowledging I recognize it to my fellow judge or letting it sway me, good or bad. On a normal day, I know that cheese to be better than what I tasted in that judging room, just like I know that some winners never tastes as good when I try to order it for the store. Come to think of it, that would be an awesome contest too: a consistency competition where the same cheeses are tasted in, say, 6 different batches over the course of the year. But in this judging, we can only judge what is in front of us.

Anyways, I will post tomorrow about some of the great cheeses and winners at this year’s competition, but today I just wanted to set the stage. Judging. It’s awesome.

*I will be mocked by my Wisconsin friends for this, but until I judged I never thought of Colby as anything other than mild Cheddar. Since then, I just pretend there’s a difference.**

**Kidding! Kind of!

***Obviously this is a name chosen because it was not one of the actual name used. In this way I am remembering Leticia’s restaurant on Market St. whose closing has left a little hole in our hearts.

****I am still kicking myself for not reacting strongly enough at one non-ACS judging. After loudly discussing every cheese’s origin as they judged it, one individual came to one that they didn’t recognize and asked me if I knew what it was. I responded, “Why do you need to know who made it to judge it?” They responded to me, “Why do you think that would affect my scores?” I didn’t realize that “blind judging” was an ambiguous term.

Book signing at ACS

I will be doing book signing from 10-10:30 Friday at the conference bookstore. I mean, I am willing to sign a book at ay time, but I will actually be sitting down, not distracted, and have a pen in my hands that specific half hour.

Come say hi!

Cheese wrangling

Just had a great conference call about the panel I am doing at ACS this year and now I’m excited. While the panel could have a more exciting name — “HANDLING CHEESE IN A RETAIL ENVIRONMENT” is not a must-attend sound bite and it sounds like I’ll be in the middle of the retail floor massaging a Gouda or something — I think that it will be fun for us and the attendees. Plus, I get to display some of my Bad Cheese photo gallery during the presentation and that’s always fun.

bad vacherin

Only five weeks away!