Tag Archives: farms for city kids

CheeseCon Withdrawal

I think a lot of us go through withdrawal after CheeseCon is over. Mongers always have access to great cheese, so it’s not that. It’s the community that comes together once a year that’s impossible to duplicate. Even as it often energizes me all the way through the holidays, it’s always hard to leave.

cornerstone 2017(Cornerstone from Parish Hill Creamery)

Here are five things that I will miss:

Randomly Bumping into American Cheese Society Lifetime Achievement Award Winners and Other Amazing Folks. This is a reminder that we are living in what will be looked upon as a significant era of cheese history. It’s easy to take for granted because almost all of these folks are down-to-earth and easy to talk to but we cannot let ourselves do it. On the morbid side of the equation, when I last saw Daphne Zepos and Steve Ehlers I didn’t think it would be my last. On the less morbid side, people move on. When I first started attending, I could not have conceived of a conference, or an ACS, without Kathleen Shannon Finn and Ricki Carroll, but here we are.

By the way, congrats Peg and Sue!  Well-deserved. Well-deserved.

peg and sue 2017

Normalization of Cheese Obsession There were 1300 people at this conference. How many more cheese-obsessed professional — not just widget movers — actually exist in our business? Double that number? Quadruple that number? No matter how you cut it, we are a community of less than 10,000 people in a country* of 320 million. It’s a very special time when we can come together and be the majority in a small geographical space.

It’s why I always think that the best Cheesecons are in small cities or places. I’ve had many fantasies in my lifetime about winning the lottery and setting up a town of political activists or punks and artists, but this is our little temporary zone of cheesies, Cheesetown USA, that we create every year. It likely wouldn’t be as fun — or intellectually stimulating — if we really lived this way all year long, but it’s awesome as an curd oasis in a year of whey.

awards ceremony crowd 2017(Awards Ceremony, Denver Sheraton)

The High Level of Cheese Talk It’s not anti-customer to say that I have explained what the crunchy bits in cheese are roughly 10,000 times. I enjoy doing it. But going to a panel that discusses the advances in our understanding of these crystals over the last decade is a once-a-year opportunity. I mean, in 1996 I called them salt crystals because that was the best explanation of anyone I had access to at the time. We are in an artisan cheese-science explosion!

crystal chart 2017(Thanks to the amazing Paul Kindstedt and Pat Polowsky!)

PETA Protests I have spent a large part of my life being a protestor in uncomfortable situations. I am here to tell you that no one protests insignificant people. Look how far we’ve come that we are protestable! Also, PETA is stupid.

And hey, how come I didn’t know there was an anti-DeVos protest in Denver when I was there? I would have been with The People in the streets for that.

3303857_a46bba2581_z (1)

(Yes, I am in this picture of an anti-Reagan protest in 1984.  Can you find me?)

Cheese Surprises On such a stage, surprises are magnified. This year had them in abundance. As a judge in the competition, I ranked two companies I never heard of** in my (personal) top five: Idyll Farms in Michigan and Shepherds Manor Creamery in Maryland.

Speaking of judging, the top two Best of Show winners were farmstead!***  Best of Show: Tarentaise Reserve by Farms For City Kids Foundation/Spring Brook Farm. 2nd Place: St. Malachi by The Farm at Doe Run. 3rd Place: Harbison by Jasper Hill. I mean holy crap! 150 years of industrialization of cheesemaking left farm-made cheese practically extinct before ACS was formed. We’ve come a long way when the two best cheeses in the competition – our largest competition ever with over 2000 cheeses entered– are from single-farm sources. That is truly something spectacular.

idyll farm 2017(Idyll Farms cheese at Festival of Cheese)

So I know it’s hard. Personally I try to hold onto the conference feeling as long as possible. Organize those pics so you can remember the contexts. Hold on to those hand-outs for future reference. Re-write those notes so you can understand them layer. Write about your experiences. Share what you learned with your co-workers. Call and email those business cards you collected, even/mostly just to talk.

It is an amazing thing to be able to have in our lives and these things are not necessarily permanent, historically speaking. Savor it, spread the cooperative nature of the event, and, hopefully, see you next year.

cheese judges 2017(some of the cheese judges from 2017)

*I know ACS technically includes all of the Americas and we also have international members from other continents but clearly it draws mostly from the USA.

**Judging is anonymous so I didn’t learn this until the awards ceremony.

***Farmstead means cheese made only with the milk from one farm produced on that farm. I edited this paragraph because someone not from Jasper Hill gave me some bad info.  Harbison is never farmstead ( I had thought this batch was an exception) and this batch was a blend of Jasper Hill milk and that of another farm in Greensboro.  Sorry.


Up for air

Another well-known cheesemonger mentioned this on his facebook the other day, but the thing that most of us – at least the cheese people who actually still work the floor – have in common is that the last two months of the year are a blur. At the beginning of January we come up for air, look around, and wonder, “I wonder what my friends have been doing for the last two months?”

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining here. I kind of love it. I like the craziness of the holiday cheese rush, I like watching cheeses that are hard sells 48 weeks of the year fly of the shelves. I like being busy. Plus it is consistent to my life-long work experience. My longest job before Rainbow Grocery Cooperative was at a photo lab. Back in those pre-digital days, the photo X-mas card business was booming and I regularly worked 50-60 hour weeks between Thanksgiving and X-mas. Long hours, but good money and the sense of accomplishment you get from doing more work than you thought possible when you started.

For instance, selling all this (and more) Reading Raclette:
reading raclette

There are many orders a cheesemonger gets in around Nov/Dec and says, “What was I thinking? How can I possibly sell all this stuff?” I will fully admit — for the benefit of the other cheese folks reading this — that I have moments of severe self-doubt, usually alone in the walk-in cooler while trying to make room for all the cheese. Is this the year I was over-confidant? Is this the year that I thought I was smarter than the historic movement reports? Will I succumb to cheese hubris?

Because all of us who have been in the same place for awhile have records of what we purchased and what customers bought the previous year. It may take a little of the romance off to look at one’s notes before making holiday pre-orders, but it sure makes it more successful. And the romance is there anyways. For every customer that comes in to buy only their same cheeses every year out of tradition, there are ten more who want new and exciting cheese, however subjectively that is defined.

So the feeling of accomplishment in mid/late December as the walk-in starts to empty out is phenomenal. Every square foot of air is a victory. Every hole on the backstock shelf is a justification of one’s purchases. At least until the retail shelves start emptying out and you have to worry about whether you ordered enough.

The life of a perishables buyer is always intense.


But yeah, If you wonder why I’m not making posts on my website, not teaching cheese classes, not sending out holiday cards and not even self-promoting very well (Cheesemonger is the perfect gift for Valentine’s day!) it’s because the cheese is demanding my full attention. Hello January. How is everyone?

On a side note, since I decided to start my book with the details of my recurring holiday dream,* I now get a lot of people asking “Have you had your dream yet?” It’s ironic that I – as someone who hates to talk about dreams almost as much as I hate hearing about other people’s dreams – have created a situation where I basically begged people to ask me about them, but there you go… I just tell ‘em I am sleeping more soundly since I got my CPAP machine.

* Every year during the holidays I have the same nightmare. I’m in the store’s walk-in cooler, but instead of the cheese area being 12’ x 16’, it’s warehouse-sized. Boxes of Fromage De Meaux, Vella Dry Jack, Valencay, Vacherin Mont D’or, Reblochon, and every other cheese I could ever want — legal or illegal — are stacked to the ceiling on shelves, on milk crates, and in every nook, cranny, and corner.

They’re rotting before my eyes.

Mites are turning the Gruyere into nasty tan dust. Orange, stinky, washed rinds are liquefying and dripping onto the cheese below. White bloomy rinds are yellowing, browning, and spotting. All the beautiful cheese is going concave: hardening or disintegrating, and I am helpless. When I look more closely, I see that the few remaining beautiful and snowy white cheeses don’t have rinds at all; instead, they are covered with seas of maggots.

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