There was a time when I thought it might not hurt to skip a yearâ€™s conference of the American Cheese Society. It has always been a pleasure to spend a few days with other cheese people; there just werenâ€™t enough new cheeses, or improvements of existing cheeses, coming along. The breakout sessions usually included some that were especially worthwhile but there was not enough new material being discussed.
However, the seminars seem to be getting better each year; they appear to getting down to the microscopic level of examination. Some of the standout sessions this year included: Understanding the Value & Implications of Terroir in America, Health Benefits & the Psychology of Cheese, Advanced Sensory Flavor Characteristics & Chemistry in Bandage Wrapped Cheddar, and Transhumance â€“ Moving Livestock in Tune with the Seasons.
I also had the privilege of serving as an Aesthetic Judge this year. The competition set a record for the number of entries â€“ 1,462 â€“ nearly twice as many cheeses as five years ago! The quality of the cheeses is improving too. As I have said before, the excitement in the cheese world today is happening right here.
My judging partner â€“ Dr. Mark Johnson â€“ dairy scientist from Wisconsin â€“ tasted over 50 cheeses in our categories on the first day judging. We evaluated nearly 60 the second day, then later that afternoon all thirty judges were asked to sample the one hundred First Place winners among the 110 categories (some of the categories did not have any cheeses that rated high enough for a First Place score) to select a â€œBest-in-Show,â€ a runner-up, and second runner-up. In all we tasted about 210 cheeses over those two days. Bliss. Later that evening I went to dinner with some of my cheese friends; after our main course we had another seven cheeses.
Among the 100 Blue Ribbon winners there were a number that I thought were outstanding, each of these worthy of a â€œBest-in-Showâ€ prize. That was the tough part. That top honor went to Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, the third time that Mike and Carol Gingrichâ€™s cheese has won it.
We send our congratulations to all of the winners. Many of those winning cheese makers are represented in our line here at Artisanal: the Uplands Pleasant Ridge, Putnamâ€™s Tarentaise, several cheeses from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, a couple from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, Nettle Meadow, Meadow Creek, Tumalo Farms, a number from Rogue Creamery, the Mozzarella Company, Capriole, Coach, Westfield Farm, Fiscalini Cheese Co., Grafton, and Consider Bardwell, among others.