Tag Archives: american cheese society favorites

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.

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.

Great Cheeses from ACS 2012: Part 1

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I am only mentioning cheeses that are new to me here because – as anyone there can attest – there were too many awesome cheeses for one person to blog about. My versions of these from past years are still pretty much valid, so check those out as well if you want.

Here is a list of things that got my attention at ACS 2012.

Ist runner up Best of Show
Valley Shepherd — Crema de Blue
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Cleary this cheese was ripped apart by the judges in the best possible way.

I had never heard of this cheese or cheese company before the judging. I love it that a cheese like this can be recognized in a competition this big. It speaks well to the competition and shows how important a blind judging is to reward less well-known cheeses. Crema de Blue is – like the Flagsheep – a mixed milk cheese, sheep and cow. As the name would imply it is rich and creamy with a very well-balanced blue flavor, assertive, but not overpowering the milkiness of the cheese. I love natural rinded blues! Again, wish I could get my hands on this one.

2nd runner up Best of Show
Emmi Roth USA — Roth Grand Cru Surchoix
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This is kind of a previous Best in Show winner. Under a slightly different name (“Roth Kase — Grand Cru Gruyère Surchoix”) this same basic cheese won it all in 1999. Since Emmi owns a company with actual name-controlled Gruyere in Switzerland (as well as Cypress Grove Chevre in California), they are moving away from calling their Wisconsin version by that name, which I do think is admirable. Whatever they called it, they make one of the most solid alpine-style cheeses in the country. They even imported those cheese flipping robots (which one is not allowed to photograph in their warehouse!) which are just about the coolest cheese thing ever.

Sequatchie Cove Farm — Dancing Fern
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This is the one cheese I voted for in my personal top 3 which didn’t make the Best of Show/Runners up list. This is the best American version of a Reblochon that I have ever tasted. Reblochon is, for the most part, illegal in the US because it is made with raw milk and aged less than 60 days. The imported pasteurized versions just do not satisfy. While I often buy a larger format, legally-raw-milk version made in France, it is great to see one made closer to home… and from a farmstead, pasture-based dairy no less!

Made in Tennessee, this is just one of the amazing Southern cheeses that are super hard to get outside the South. I am so glad the ACS decided to go to Raleigh this year (even though it was the 2nd straight year on the East Coast) because it really let those of us who live far away get exposed to great cheese we may not know about otherwise. (And hey, I’ll be back in the South in October for the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival in Nashville! Tickets go on sale this week)

If you are local, we actually have some of this cheese in the store right now… but probably not for long.

American Cheese Society 2012: Best of Show

It’s always an amazing moment at the awards ceremony when it is time for Best of Show. I like to sit in the front row so that people can’t see that I always cry when the award is announced. An incredibly loud “OH MY GOD!” came from the back of the audience when this name went up on the screen… and I just couldn’t help myself. Congratulations on all the hard work.

2012 Best of Show:
Flagsheep – Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
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After all the individual category winners are chosen, all the 1st place winners get shuffled off into another room so that the judges can taste all of them in order to determine Best of Show. Generally, I go through the room tasting everything, marking down any that are amazing enough that I think they may qualify for my top three. During this whole time judges are not supposed to talk to each other so the room is eerily silent. For about an hour the only sound you hear is the chopping of knives and the soggy plop of half masticated cheese hitting the spit buckets.*

Still, I knew this cheese would be popular when I physically bumped into Marianne Smukowski in front of a bandage-wrapped mixed milk cheese while trying to get a second taste. We didn’t say anything then, but in the waiting room after we had turned in our ballots she asked me if I voted for it and I said yes. When some other folks chimed in as well, I knew that it would be recognized. That is the weird thing in the judging room. I usually think I will be the only one voting for the cheeses I select. Before I turn in my sheet I always say to myself, “Even if no one else votes for these cheeses, will you be proud of your decision?” When my answer is yes, I know I am ready to vote.

The Flagsheep we tasted was awesome and truly deserved this honor. A sheep/cow bandaged-wrapped Cheddar with a ton of complexity: sharp, sweet, nutty, grassy… just amazing. When I tasted it against the other 10-12 cheeses in my informal top tier ranking, I knew I would vote for it as my top aged cheese.

I just wish I could get my hands on some now that the show is over. Word is that they only had 23 wheels aged and ready to go and that they were all allotted.

Here is their happy cheesemaker.
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*Most of you will be relieved, and only a few sickos disappointed, that the picture of my spit bucket was too overflashed to bother posting here. Hopefully they will ask me to judge again next year so I can get a good one.

Cheese-a-Topia Favorites: Best in Show

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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!

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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.
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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.
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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!
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*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!
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****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!

Cheese-a-Topia Favorites: Caldwell Crik Chevrette

The one cheese that I voted for in the top three that didn’t place was the Estrella Family Creamery Caldwell Crik Chevrette:
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Frankly, I don’t understand why more judges didn’t put this in their top 3. I love this cheese. It is everything you want in a washed-rind. A blend of raw goat and cow, this is probably in my top 5 American cheeses of any type. It’s stinky, so it announces its presence right away. It is complex. You can taste butter, tanginess, fruit, grass, and more. It has a great aftertaste. And it is just a perfect ugly/beautiful rustic cheese. Amazing cheese.

*Unfortunately this cheese is not available right now as the Estrellas are working with the FDA to create a safer environment and procedures for making young, raw milk cheeses. Tami Parr from Pacific Northwest Cheese Project has covered this the best of anyone.

Cheese-a-Topia favorites: Pastoral Blend

Another fabulous cheese was the Sartori Reserve Pastoral Blend:
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Though this company does that mid-word, corporate, internet-capitalization thing that drives me nuts (“SarVecchio” Parmesan, “BellaVitano”, etc…) they make some pretty damn good cheese. This is a big wheels of sheep/cow cheese that shows the best flavors of both milks. Nutty and sharp with a great caramel aftertaste.