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!

Life Happens. 

Well, I had every intention of writing a full blog post this week but starting school with a new job has really thrown a wrench in my routine. I’m taking a business boot camp and it’s essentially three business classes in one quarter. It’s four nights a week and there is homework most every night. Needless to say, I’ve been a bit thin on time. It’s exciting but also a huge change for me so when I was faced with the decision to do some blog adventures or stay home and hang with the dog in the sun, I chose the latter. I did get an outline for a bigger post worked out and there may be some bigger projects coming down the pipeline soon. For now though, I’m going to do some homework and think about yesterday when I got to lie around in the sun and enjoy some leisure reading!


Oregon Cheese Festival 2016

I’m going to start with my most recent trip because it’s all in my head and the pictures are easily accessible.

It had been a few years since I’d made the trek down to Central Point for the Oregon Cheese Festival. Living in Seattle now makes it much more of a commitment to drive the 8 hours south. I had plenty of good reasons to stop though, like picking up my Niece to take her with me. She’s 20 and usually up for an adventure even if cheese isn’t her thing (yet!).

The drive was long and mostly uneventful. We got rear ended while sitting in traffic in Wilsonville by some guy that thought traffic was a good time to clean out his wallet. He barely tapped us and he was fully embarrassed when I got out of my car to give him an earful. The rest of the drive was pretty smooth sailing, though I have to admit that driving those mountain passes at night is not something I want to do often.

We checked in to our hotel around 9pm and we instantly headed towards In n Out burger. How could we not? It was pretty hopping and it seemed to be the place to be for all the teens in town on a Friday night. The guy sitting next to us was a little TOO in to In n Out by exclaiming to the girl he was with that he would eat there every day if he lived there. Now, I like a good burger here and there, but In n Out is more novelty than anything. It’s not even close to being the best burger out there but I digress.  Here’s an attractive picture of my Niece enjoying her burger.
We got up in the morning thankful for the time to stretch out, and made our way towards breakfast and coffee. I’d never really heard much good about Medford.  Growing up in Oregon, it was always referred to in unsavory ways. I was out to prove this wrong. We started by heading to a delicious food truck named Ooblies Waffles. Hayley went for the classic fresh cheese and berries and I went for their iconic chicken and waffles.
It was a beast but supremely delicious! It was a buttermilk fried chicken drenched in a honey citrus glaze and topped with a cider slaw. After all of that, we NEEDED coffee so we found an adorable little spot that I’m sad I didn’t get any pictures of. It was called Limestone Coffee Company and it was such a pleasant little place with really tasty coffee.

From there we made it to the festival. This is a big deal for Central Point and even by 11 am the tent was packed and parking was a few blocks away. I didn’t mind though because we got to say hi to these little guys on our way in.
I’m always a sucker for adorable baby animals and these are some of the new male calves from Rogue Creameries farm.

This years event was much bigger than the year I had been previous, with two large tents and multiple food trucks surrounding. It was a lovely day outside at almost 70 degrees, which proved to make under the tents a bit warm (and often smelly-loads of cheese and loads of people!). It was packed to the gills nearly the entire time I was there which is great for the cheesemakers and wineries, but a little difficult for cheese professionals and the like. I usually like to volunteer at these types of events because it can put you in a place that’s more accessible to the cheesemakers. It’s hard to get quality FaceTime when there are lines wrapped around the tent. None the less, I saw a lot of my personal favorites like Briar Rose, Cascadia Creamery, Portland Creamery, Ochoa Creamery, and of course Rogue Creamery. I honestly didn’t taste that much cheese because the lines stretched for way too long (Pacific Northwesteners really love their lines. At the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival this would have never happened. Not saying that festival is better, just saying how different the East and West coasts are.) but I did make a point to try some new stuff. Everyone was talking about ByGeorge Farms out of Jacksonville, Oregon. I was able to try their  Brie which was creamy with a nice touch of mushroomy tartness. My compatriots I was with (Matt Bellingham, the cheese buyer at Whole Foods Market Hollywood in Portland and his wonderful family, Heidi and Dawson.) raved about their aged options. Grass fed, raw, cows milk cheese raised on certified organic pasture and fed all non GMO grain, alfalfa, and hay to supplement. It gives me something to keep an eye out for!

One other noteworthy offering was Oak Leaf Creamery. He uses thistle rennet that he personally derives from artichoke flowers. I tried the Snow, and while creamy and a great texture, it clearly has that “thistle rennet” flavor. It was pretty strong and it stuck on my tongue for quite some time after. It’s not really my thing, but I know plenty of people that would gobble that stuff up!
I can sometimes be terrible about taking pictures so I lent my phone to Dawson to see how a 9 year saw the world. I think he did a pretty stunning job.
Note some pretty key cheese people in that photo. Anna Juhl from Cheese Journeys, Thalassa Skinner from Culture Magazine, and Tom Van Voorhees from Rogue Creamery. The kid knows when to take a good picture!

I finished my cheese weekend on Gordon tour. For those not in the know, Gordon “Zola” Edgar is a writer, educator, and Monger at Rainbow Co-op in San Fransisco. He was on tour promoting and reading from his new book titled ” Cheddar A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese”. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but after seeing the readings in both Portland and Seattle I can honestly say I’m super stoked to delve in. Gordon is great at telling a story about unlikely things like cheddar and making the subject matter exciting and fun.
A picture from both readings. On the left in Portland at Reading Frenzy, and on the right in Seattle at Elliot Bay Books.
I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me after the fact. I have more adventures coming up and some that still need to be told! Until next time!

*Edited to add that I may have lost the pictures that were supposed to be in this post. I have to search a bit deeper in my computers to find them.