Tag Archives: bleu mont

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 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.

Wisconsin vs. California

So, I did a class at the Cheese School that was a battle between Wisconsin and California. I figured it would be a fun class, because, hey, why not stoke the rivalry? I almost got a Wisconsin food blogger kicked out of his home state because (his idea!) we bet on the Niners/Packers playoff result. When my Niners won, he had to go put up “California Cheese is better than Wisconsin Cheese” on his facebook page. I felt so bad for him… he got hundreds of comments, many very nasty, and people were unfriending him in droves.

The Cheese School folks suggested a Super Bowl Cheese class but we had to cancel it when Baltimore got in from the AFC. There are some good Maryland cheeses, but none are available out here and it just didn’t excite people the way that a battle people the top milk and cheese producing states would.

No, Wisconsin vs. California is the real battle. Since they will never get to battle in the Super Bowl (Sorry Raiders fans), I decided that it would be fun just to have a battle at the Cheese School.

I didn’t hype the class at all because it sold out really fast. So, I was surprised when people started lobbying me about what cheeses should compete. I am known as a Californian, so it did NOT surprise me that the lobbying came from Wisconsin. Was I going to set up a California victory? Would I battle some cold pack cheese spread against Humboldt Fog? An Aaron Rodgers-shaped mild, waxed Cheddar against Fiscalini bandage-wrapped aged for 18 months?

From others I got dismayed reactions about having the cheeses fight against each other. Can’t we all just get along? My answer to that is that in a cheese case (or a buyers desk) these cheeses are in competition every day. This doesn’t mean we can’t cooperate and work together, but a customer, unless doing a horizontal tasting, does not want two traditional Cheddars, Two aged sheep cheeses, two blues etc and they are going to have to choose one. It’s my job, behind the counter, to help them figure out which one to choose, presenting them with tastes, stories and contexts. So really, this is a more real-life situation than my average cheese class.

I’m not the most prompt blogger, but I promised results to folks. I tried to pick categories that would be a fair fight. I conceded block Cheddar to Wisconsin. I claim ripened goat cheese for the Californians. Here’s what happened with the match-ups I chose.

Round 1:
Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped 18 Month Cheddar vs. Bleu Mont Dairy Cheddar

I did my samples anonymously and switched the California/Wisconsin order around so people couldn’t stack the deck. I thought that there would be a lot of Wisconsin people there because the class sold out so quickly, but it was mostly because a law office was having a night out together. I was a little disappointed because I had planned a bunch of Wisconsin-baiting but there were only 3 Badger-Staters in attendance.

People loved both these cheeses. We were definitely starting out strong with two giants of the cheese world. The Fiscalini was the first non-English cheese to take home the award for Best Extra Mature Traditional Cheddar at the World Cheese Awards. Bleu Mont is an amazing traditional Cheddar from organic pastured cows aged in a cave made by cheese genius Willi Lehner. CheddarSharp or sweet.? Moist or shard-y? Who will win?

Me and Mariano from Fiscalini. At least Mariano looks good.
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I was shocked when I counted the hands. It was an absolute tie. It didn’t seem fair to go all Speaker-of-the-House and be the tie-breaker, so I let it stand.

California: 0, Wisconsin: 0, Ties: 1

Round 2
Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl vs. Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op Dante

I love both of these cheeses, but let me start with the unexpected: This was the best piece of Dante I have ever tasted and we have carried this, on and off, since soon after they started making it. It was an incredible balance of sweet caramel, sharpness, and earthiness.

Here are some of the co-op members
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I love the Fat Bottom Girl a million different ways and think that it is one of the best versions of Basque-style cheese in the USA but its more subtle nuance, and grassiness could note compete with the hammer smash of this particular wheel of Dante. I don’t know how it would come out next time, but this time the winner was Dante.

California: 0, Wisconsin: 1, Ties: 1

Round 3
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk vs. Crave Brothers Petit Freres

A washed-rind stink off. Who would win? Our local hero and past ACS Best of Show winner? Or the little, underrated washed rind from the family dairy with one of the biggest methane digesters in the US cheese business?

I like the Freres a lot, but Red Hawk may be unbeatable in this category. Red Hawk, I should note, just keeps getting better and better. It’s another cheese I have eaten pretty much since it was invented and every time I try it, it seems better than the last. I should note, that this was the only cheese of the evening that people could recognize.
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California: 1, Wisconsin: 1, Ties: 1

Round 4
Pt Reyes Farmstead Bay Blue vs. Roelli Dunbarton Blue

To decide it all two cheese that have little but blue in common. Bay Blue is the new Blue from Pt Reyes Farmstead which has been a huge hit since we started carrying it. Natural rind, richer than Original Blue and with more depth of flavor despite being pasteurized. The Dunbarton is basically a traditional Cheddar with Blue veining. Pretty original as cheeses go, and made by one of my favorite cheesemakers. This was the only category where some folks said that they might actually buy both for a cheese plate (eve if we cheesemongers know that only about .01% of customers would actually buy two blues at one time) 😉
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This one was close, and I thought we might have another tie on our hands, but when everyone was counted Dunarton Blue was victorius, bringing home the overall win for Wisconsin.

California: 1, Wisconsin: 2, Ties: 1

It was a close one. I hope to schedule a rematch soon with different cheeses. After all, I am a Californian.

*I do have an upcoming class at the Cheese School, if you are interested.