Tag Archives: american cheese society

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.

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.

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.

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.

American Cheese Society Conference 2013

I was thinking about what I should write about this year’s American Cheese Society conference since I am leaving for Wisconsin in 6 days. But then I realized I wrote everything out last year!

I had almost forgotten about “Gordonzola’s humble suggestions for getting the most out of the cheese conference” but I just re-read it and it’s pretty good advice, all things considered. I mean, considering it’s coming from me. If you haven’t gone to the conference before, check it out!


Also, If you are around Milwaukee 8/4 at noon, I will be doing a cheese talk at Gloriosos Italian Market. Follow the link for info. It’s Milwaukee’s “cheese event of the season” they say.

Sad week for the cheese community

There was very sad news in the cheese world this week with the passing of two important cheese people.

I did not know Dr. Pat Elliott very well so I will leave memorializing her to others. I do remember meeting her at my very first American Cheese Society conference though. I didn’t know anyone at the bar but she invited me to her table of cheese folks and made me feel welcome. Over the years we always said hello at various national cheese events, but reading her obituary makes me wish I had sought her out and made time to really talk to her. She will be missed.

Fred Hull was a different kind of cheese person. He wasn’t a cheese maker or distributor and he didn’t seem to work in cheese stores very often. I did not know what he did with himself when he wasn’t at the American Cheese Society, but I know that when I would arrive, Fred would have already been there for awhile, doing crucial behind the scenes tasks. If you didn’t work in the judging room, you may never have met him, but he was one of the handful of people who made the whole thing work. He was there to bring out the cheese, to replenish supplies, to make sure everyone had what they needed. He loved being around cheese so much that he would do things, unpaid, that others might complain about while getting a paycheck.

Indeed, Fred was someone who – every year – would help me rekindle my love for my job. As much as I love cheesemongering, there are times in any job where things get you down. The customer service nightmares, the invoice hassles, the cleaning of the drains… whatever. Fred’s enthusiasm for cheese couldn’t help but make you forget all those things. Every year I judged I would start saving little nibbles of the best cheeses so that when he walked by I could share them. I loved watching his reactions, hearing his voice when he would talk about the richness or the complexity or whatever he liked about the sample. I noticed that a lot of the other judges did the same thing. I think our moments with Fred were a treat for all of us. I know he was one of a few people who, just being around, helped me go back to my work refreshed and energized.


I am having a hard time believing that when I show up to Madison this year to judge. In his years volunteering at the conference he became an integral part of our community. He was not a fame seeker (unlike those of us with enough narcissism to write cheese books). He just seemed to love every minute of the time he got to spend around cheese. He soaked everything in, exuding back a pure joy of appreciation for the time he got to spend a whole week doing nothing but talking cheese, tasting cheese, and being in that rarefied community of cheese people that gather every year in a different state because, sure it’s our job, but also because we are a little obsessed.

I am not sure yet what should be done to honor Fred this year at the conference. But his love of cheese was something that needs to be remembered. Fred will be missed by all the cheese people who knew him.

Cheese Hunter / Episode Two: American Cheeses from Kevin Davidson on Vimeo.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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


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
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

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

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

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.

*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.

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.

(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!