For the last ten days of the year I will share some of my favorite 2013 cheese photos. You ready? Here we go!
Tag Archives: valley ford cheese
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.
In the craziness of last year, I just realized that I never wrote about judging for the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Despite the fact that Sonoma County is a dairy hub, thanks to Sheana Davis this was the first year in a long time that they included a cheese category in their yearly, local awards.
They have an interesting way of judging at the Sonoma Harvest Fair. Since I put off writing this entry for 4 months, I now can’t remember what is was called…
Swedish judging? Scandinavian judging? It’s called Danish Judging and it’s the staple of 4-H contests. Thanks Sarah Shevett!* Anyways, the judges sample the cheese — then before talking to each other — provisionally rank the cheese gold, silver, Bronze or no award. If there is disagreement, you take a couple of minutes to re-taste and try to convince the other judges to raise or lower their scores. Finally, judges give their final rank. With three judges, two votes out of three carried the award. In the case where all three judges award gold, the cheese gets awarded ”Double Gold”. From there we chose the best of show.
I was skeptical of this method because I had never used it before. At most cheese contests, a point system for different attributes is used, judges are not encouraged to lobby each other, and the total points carry the award. First, second, and third are usually limited to three cheeses (except in the case of ties).
By the end though, I kind of liked this system. Generally we agreed right off the bat and only once did we have a gold/silver/bronze split. Of course, we did have over 50 years of professional cheese experience among the three judges.
Amusingly enough, the Best in Show is a cheese that is no longer available. It is the Petaluma Creamery Dry Goat Jack with Peppercorns
We actually carried this cheese for a couple of years, but I guess they lost their goat milk supply and this, including the winner, was cheese made awhile back and aged a long time.
I screwed up my picture of one of the runners up, Cameo, a soft-ripened goat cheese from Redwood Hill Farm, but I’ve written about it previously. I will just substitute the video by Cameo instead because I really can’t listen to this song enough:
Highway One is a very nice Fontina-style cheese from a farmstead family dairy that is only getting better and better.
Of course, I am really excited for my next judging gig. Yep, I am judging Mac and Cheese for SF Food Wars in a couple of weeks. This event sold out in about thirty seconds. I am not exaggerating.
*Anybody know? Help me out here, my googling didn’t yield any results.