I always forget to write about judging the Sonoma Harvest Fair dairy competition because the awards are secret for a while afterwards. In fact, I’m never exactly sure when they are made public because it’s some time after the judging but before the awards dinner.
But I guess it doesn’t really matter. I’m still here. You’re still here. The cheeses are still here. Let’s talk about it now!
The Sonoma Harvest Fair is mostly a wine competition but Sheana Davis* helped bring I dairy back in 2010. It’s open only to cheese, butter, and yogurt made in Sonoma County and while that certainly limits the amount of entries, Sonoma County’s dairy history is over 150 years old so it shouldn’t be absent from this kind of celebration of local food.
This year the judges were me, Sheana, and Colette Hatch, a cheese consultant also known as “Madame de Fromage”** We use the 4-H method of judging where we taste the cheese, give it a preliminary grade (gold, silver, bronze, or no award), have a little discussion, then give a final grade. If everyone votes for gold then it is awarded a “double gold” and entered into the Best of Show category.
The winner was the Valley Ford Cheese Company’s 14 Month Montasio-style Estero Gold. Valley Ford just recently started making cheese but they are a fifth generation dairy operation with a closed heard of 400 Jersey cows humanely raised on 640 acres of land. I had never tried any of Karen Moreda’s cheeses aged this long and I was a little shocked at the strength and depth of flavor. This cheese was assertively fruity, sharp, earthy, big and bitey. Truly an awesome cheese. Her Fontina-style Highway One (below) also got a double gold.
My vote for Best of Show (though it was a really difficult decision because they were such different style of cheese) was the Bleating Heart Dairy “Fat Bottom Girl”. Named for the accidental way that her first batch aged, this is simply a great, local version of a classic Basque sheep cheese: milky sweet, caramel-y, grassy, and just incredibly satisfying. Seana Doughty also won double gold for her “Shepherdista”. She just makes great sheep cheese.
Another notable double gold winner was the butter from McClelland Dairy. I love their butter. Got some in the fridge right now in fact.
* Sheana’s store, The Epicurean Connection, is opening in a new location on my birthday.*** Check it out if you are in Sonoma
**She really is French so this is not pretentious.
***My birthday, at different times has also been Ig Vella Day and Sheana Davis Day
****The title of this entry is taken from a great song by Feelings on a Grid called “In Sonoma”. It has nothing to do with the rest of the entry.