ACS: PARTY TIME

It’s not often that so many of us are able to travel from every part of the country to be together like this, so when it happens we enjoy every moment. We enjoy the learning and growing, we enjoy the camaraderie and hard work that goes in to pulling something like this off, and we enjoy a great party. I should really say great PARTIES because there is a party (or two, or three!) every night of the conference, hosted by some of the best names in the business. Cheese people love to get down.

Tuesday night: La Quercia

Sadly I didn’t take too many pictures this night. My brain may have been a bit on the slow side due to hours in a cooler and a mad rush to cut 100 cheeses for the Best in Show judging. I did thoroughly enjoy myself though. La Quercia is set on a gorgeous lot with corn fields a plenty. They did mini tours of the plant, live music from a local band, and plenty of food. There were a lot of people making their way in to town and this was the first place a lot of people went so there were lots of welcome hugs to go around.

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Elizabeth Chubbeck from Murray’s cheese and Laure DuBouloz from Mons enjoying the corn on the cob.

I would say the corn on the cob was the most popular thing at the party because the line was pretty long for most of the night. There were different options but the one that seemed the most popular was the one slathered in Frisian Farms Sneek cheese and Mo’Rub, some fantastic Iowan products.

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Wednesday: Meet the Cheesemaker

This event is always great because it’s rare that we get the opportunity to taste through cheeses from companies that may not ship to our side of the country. Once again, I failed to take too many pictures but I did take some of one of the newer cheesemakers making waves in the US. I have been following Boxcarr Handmade Cheese on Instagram for a while now and I was super excited to finally get the chance to taste all their goodies. I love the format of their cheese since every style comes in a pudgy, square. I have to admit that I am very interested in the cheese coming out of the South in general right now.


I did get the pleasure of bringing home a chunk of their Campo and usually I’m not in to smoked cheeses in the slightest, but the smoke on this is light enough that the milk still shines through. The texture was perfect, dense but pliant, and the rind has just the right amount of stickiness. It would be a perfect cheese to take camping. I did try all of their cheese at the event but I’m hard pressed to think of any exact tasting notes since I’ve eaten a ridiculous amount of cheese since then, but I know I remember loving every single one. Cottonseed won third place in the soft ripened mix milk category and Rocket’s Robiola won second place in the American Originals open category. Not bad for their first round of entering for competition. I’m excited to see how they evolve and I can’t wait to taste more!

Thursday: Opening Ceremony at Maytag Farms

Maytag Farms has been producing fine blue cheese since 1941 in Newton, IA. Sadly, they had a voluntary recall of their products in January so there wasn’t a chance to tour the factory but they still opened up the farm for a fantastic party. I felt it was important to visit the farm because we need to show the companies that have been doing this forever that we support them and will continue to support them through any struggles. These companies are the ones that paved the way for the popularity of American artisan cheese today. We honestly couldn’t have asked for a better night. It wasn’t blazingly hot, we had a beautiful sunset, and we got to dunk a bunch of cheesemakers in a dunk tank! And there was so much amazing food and drink!

We also ended the night with a rowdy bit of karaoke. Nothing ends a night better than loudly singing along to karaoke jams.

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Another time where I didn’t take as many pictures as I should have. You’ll just have to make due with these adorable French girls.

Friday: Awards ceremony and Trivia night

To many at the conference, the awards ceremony is one of the most important things that happens all week. The work that goes in to this night and the importance to the cheesemakers of this night is immeasurable. It is lovingly referred to as “The Oscars of Cheese”. It’s a pretty straight forward event, really. Winners are called out by category and  the cheese that placed first in each category is up for Best in Show. It can be an emotional and fun event for all in the audience.

Some of the pictures are a little blurry but things move pretty quickly and I’m still learning how to use my camera.

Standard Market held their party this night also but but I didn’t get the chance to swing by. I stayed after the awards longer than I expected.

Next stop; Iowa Taproom for a game of trivia sponsored by Culture cheese magazine. All of the questions were fantastically cheesy and the second round got the better of my team but there really was no losing in that game. The beer flowed freely, I had a pork loin sandwich that is apparently native to Iowa, and the place was packed with knowledgable cheese people.

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Chris Roelli gave an impassioned cheers after his cheese won Best in Show.

Next stop; The Boska party. This is the party widely known as one of the wilder parties of the week. This one seemed a bit tame compared to some I’ve been to in the past but people still got hot and sweaty on the dance floor. It was some necessary release for some of these cheesemakers.

Saturday night: Festival of Cheese 

The Festival of cheese is basically the big ending to the entire conference. Tickets are available to the public and it’s such a great way to share all of this cheese with everyone. It takes all day to prepare for it (with some people even working through the week before hand to prepare) but the end pay off is pretty great.

The set up and preparation.

 

During the big event!

There are multiple vendors with other things that one might need to enjoy a roomful of cheese. Meat, crackers, beer, and wine. There’s really nothing else like it. This year we tried something new and put the Cheese Sale at the same time as the Festival to hopefully get people to buy cheese on their way out. It’s a great fundraising tool and also a good way to get rid of all the excess cheese we have lying around. The best deal, buying a bag and filling it for around $60. It’s an insane amount of cheese!

Sunday Morning: DZTA Run for Cheese 5k:

Yep, some of us woke up early to participate in a 5k. I didn’t run, I was just there to volunteer and take pictures. It was another fundraising event for the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award and a new thing to happen at the conference. DSC_0513

So there we have it, a complete rundown of what happens at conference. It’s a marathon and we all find our ways of getting through it. By the end, we are all exhausted and ready to go home but at the same time sad that the time together is over. It’s a bonding experience like none other. Now it’s time to count down to Denver 2017!

ACS: Judging and Competition.

To me, judging is one of the hardest jobs of the American Cheese Society conference. It may not be as physically taxing as say, a cooler captain, but it can not be understated how difficult it can be on your brain and taste buds. There is a whole lot of cheese to get through and only two days to do it!

DSC_0180This is what the racks look like when they come out and the cooler captain is in charge of making sure that the racks are in order with the right cheeses and in the right category. Depending on the category, there can be 20 or more cheeses that need to be tasted for judging. There are often multiple pieces for each entry and only one piece needs to be tasted but it’s just easier to keep them all together because their life extends well beyond judging.

Judges are separated in to teams. One aesthetic and one technical. This is an important thing to note because both are looking for different things and if we had multiple teams of aesthetic judges there would very different outcomes than what we see today. Aesthetic judges tend to be cheesemongers, shop owners, or general cheese enthusiasts and the technical judges are those that are often dairy scientists, working at the center for Dairy Research, or a university with an active agriculture program. The judges go through trainings to calibrate their palates so everyone is on the same page but the amount of tasting fatigue experienced can be hard to remedy when tasting so many cheeses. It is also difficult recognizing some of your favorite cheeses come through and being perfectly honest and frank about their flavor profiles or inconsistencies in the batches they have selected for judging. One of the things that people don’t realize or know is that every cheese gets feedback. Positive and constructive criticism. Sometimes it can be difficult to say anything constructive because it can seem like the cheese is perfect (and there were even a few this year that took home a perfect score, which is unheard of) and sometimes it can be hard to say something positive because you’ve either exhausted your words for the day or the simple fact remains that in a numbers game like this, there are bound to be some real duds.

Just imagine, also, that you’ve already tasted through a bevy of cheese and then have to prepare your tastebuds for the ultimate tasting, the Best in Show category. The blue ribbons in each category are pulled to the side and set up for a round table tasting of epic proportions. This year we prepared 105 cheeses for Best in Show tasting. It’s an amazing ordeal and I always feel so proud to be able to be a part of this particular tasting.

From here, the results are tallied and sent off to the printer to prepare for the Friday night awards ceremony. The J&C committees jobs, including my time as a cooler captain, are done but the cheese is passed on to the next set of volunteers for the Festival of Cheese.

To see life from the other side of the curtain, check out my friend Gordon Edgar’s post on being a judge. There is some great info on how they can judge all those cheeses.

 

The next installment though, regional tours. I went on a PORK TOUR!

ACS: Best in Show!

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This is a face of a life changed. A face of hard work and determination paying off. A face of generations of American cheesemaking.

There was not a dry eye to be had when the Best in Show winner was said to be Little Mountain from Roelli Cheese company out of Wisconsin. Chris Roelli was overtaken with emotion and joy that touched everyone in the room. The regeneration of the Roelli plant in 2006 has culminated in this moment.

Chris Roelli is a fourth generation cheesemaker and is one of Wisconsin distinguished Master Cheesemakers, a job he takes quite seriously. The Roelli plant had been closed since 1991 and since the reopening, Chris Roelli has dedicated his time and life to regenerating the past of his predecessors.  Little Mountain was a cheese made to honor that past and the family that have made cheese in the US for nearly 100 years and it is huge to have won in one of the hardest contests we’ve seen in years. Out of 1843 cheeses submitted for judging this year, Little Mountain reigns supreme.

I have so much more to say about the conference as a whole but I just really wanted to share this joy.