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: The Conference Begins! (For Some of us at Least)

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This is how every conference begins. A huge empty room that is soon to be filled to the brim with volunteers and cheese! The Judging and Competition committee shows up almost a week before the conference actually starts because the amount of work that needs to happen can be quite overwhelming. From receiving all 1843 cheeses, to reorganizing the cooler trucks for anonymous judging, there is a need for many volunteers to pull of the massive endeavor a conference like this involves.

This year we went to one day receiving to try to ease the amount of work that everyone has to do but it’s an intense and complicated procedure.

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All of these boxes need to be processed quickly and efficiently. The cheese needs to be checked for quality, and that was especially important this year since receiving was done on a day that reached almost 100 degrees. The boxes get unpacked, the cheese gets the once over for quality and then separated in to its anonymous category,  and then placed in the cooler trucks for the Cooler Captains to take inventory and to make sure all the cheese is accounted for. The Cooler Captains then rearrange and set up the racks for pulling for judging. It is important that the cheese gets pulled out in a timely manner so it is perfectly tempered when the judges sink their teeth in.

It’s not the most glamorous job, but the importance cannot be understated. The amount of work the cheesemakers put in to perfecting their cheese and selecting the batches they feel represent the flavors that best reflect their hard work need to taken care of with delicate care. Nothing can be lost or damaged.

This is literally the beginning of all the work that needs to happen throughout the week. Next up, Judging and Competition.