Tag Archives: american cheese society

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: Fred Hull

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Tomorrow I will post about the ACS 2013 Awards Ceremony, but I want to take today to remember Fred Hull. I wrote about Fred when I heard about his death earlier in the year. His presence was missed at the conference and especially in the judging room. I found myself expecting to see him every time a new volunteer approached my table. I always enjoy the judging, but it was a little bittersweet this year without his humor, warmth, and love for cheese.

Thank you David Grotenstein, for giving Fred such a lovely and fitting tribute before the Awards Ceremony. I’m sure it wasn’t easy but all of us who worked with Fred were in tears out there in the audience. You served his memory well.

R.I.P. Fred.

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:
curds at old fashioned

At Graze:
fried curds

At The Tipsy Cow:
curds at tipsy cow

In the form of poutine at Cooper’s Tavern:
poutine at coopers tavern

In their natural form at Clock Shadow Creamery
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ACS 2013: The Judging

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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…

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.