Tag Archives: awards

The importance of the ACS–championing the ageing of cheese on wood

Volunteers help prep for the opening reception

Preparing for the Opening Reception of the 2014 American Cheese Society Awards

From Sue:  Another amazing and insightful entry into the world of Cheese–Kelsie Parsons was selected to be one of the TWO official cheese mongers for the American Cheese Society Awards–a huge honour- and here he reports back!  Go Kelsie!

For several years I have wanted to become involved with the American Cheese Society. It’s an organization that promotes and celebrates the work of cheesemakers (many of whom are also farmers and some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met). It supports the production of raw milk cheese, the aging of cheese on wood, and encourages its members to meet and exceed food safety standards. The American Cheese Society has existed as long as I have (since the summer of 1983) and has united the American cheese industry. The annual cheese conference is a great example of this unity – cheese people come together to learn, grow, cheer each other on, and celebrate each others wins.

The cheese spread at the New Member Reception, sponsored by Sartori

The cheese spread at the New Member Reception, sponsored by Sartori

Nearly 1000 people gathered in Sacramento, California at the end of July for the 2014 American Cheese Society conference. In attendance were cheese retailers, mongers, makers, affineurs, importers, distributors, scientists, educators, enthusiasts, government officials, and food service professionals. I’ll expand in more detail later, but throughout the five day event, the conference consisted of:

  • The annual Certified Cheese Professional exam
  • Several receptions
  • A pub crawl
  • A tradeshow area featuring manufacturers of bacteria, equipment, pasteurizers etc.
  • Presentations on topics such as food safety, genetically modified organisms, and microbiology
  • Tasting and pairing sessions
  • Scholar-in-residence sessions where cheesemakers met with experts to analyze and get feedback on their cheese
  • The Meet the Cheesemaker event where 75 producers from across North America sampled their cheese with attendees
  • Cheese themed breakfasts and a brunch
  • A cheese competition with 1,685 entrants and an awards ceremony
  • The HUGE Festival of Cheese where attendees could sample most of the products entered in the competition

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There was never a dull moment. Last year I attended the conference for only one day (to write my Certified Cheese Professional test) so 2014 was the first time I truly attended the conference. Saying it was a memorable experience would be an understatement. Randall Felts (from Whole Foods in Birmingham, Alabama) and I were selected as this year’s two Official Conference Cheesemongers.

Kelsie and Randall pose with Winnimere, the 2013 Best of Show cheese

Kelsie and Randall pose with Jasper Hill’s Winnimere, which was awarded Best of Show in 2013.

Randall and I were in touch over conference calls and email for several months prior to meeting in person. One email from Randall prior to the conference really stood out. It stated, “Any nervousness I feel is just that we live up to the great products that we are showcasing.  I’m sure we will showcase them great, but I have such a great respect for the producers for whom we will be plating that I want everything to be top tier just like the cheese.” Even before we met in person, we had connected. We understood that we were incredibly lucky to work with so many amazing cheeses and our aim was to ensure that each cheese was handled and presented as best it could be. We shared a great respect for the hard work of the cheesemakers and we knew every time we served a cheese, we would also be serving it to the people who laboured to create it.

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ACS Conference; inside our half-full/half-empty reefer truck

Behind the scenes at the conference there were five reefer trucks full of cheese. Four were home to cheese for the judging and competition and one truck was for all the events that Randall and I were responsible for. Every rack in our reefer truck was organized by day, by event, time, and cheesemaker. The first rack in the truck contained everything we’d need for the first event and furthest rack inside the truck was the last one we needed. Every cheese was in its place and there was no searching necessary to find it. We simply brought a rack out, cut and plated all the cheese, and arranged the tables for each session.

This is only about a quarter of the volunteers who helped set up the Festival of Cheese

This is only about a quarter of the volunteers who helped set up the Festival of Cheese

Besides all the wonderful cheese, the real highlight of the conference was the people I met and had the privilege of working with – Randall, the ACS staff, the presenters, and, most notably, everyone who wore a red “Cheese Guard” shirt – the volunteers. Roughly 70 volunteers helped Randall and I prepare cheese for tasting sessions, breakfasts, and receptions. Add in those who helped with the judging and competition, the cheese sale, and the incredible number of volunteers who helped set up the Festival of Cheese and it’s astounding how many people came together to make the conference a success.

I could never imagine working with a more talented and delightful group of people. All the volunteers were amazing, and together they made the conference possible.

Jess, one of the awesome volunteers, posing with a beautifully spun ball of Oaxaca cheese

Jess, one of the awesome volunteers, posing with a beautifully spun ball of Oaxaca cheese

Many volunteers were professional cheese mongers, some were students at a local culinary school, and some were locals who wanted to join in on the fun, but all loved cheese and worked together so efficiently and professionally that the whole process was absolutely seamless. It was a real pleasure working with so many colleagues in cheese who I have such an incredible respect and admiration for. I sincerely hope we meet again soon so we can relax and enjoy some cheese and a pint together.

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Jeremy Stephenson of Farms-for-City-Kids-Foundation accepting the Best of Show Award for Tarentaise Reserve

I’m planning to volunteer at next year’s conference in Providence, Rhode Island and, if you attend in the future, I encourage you to consider volunteering as well. It’s a ton of fun, a great way to meet some kick-ass cheese people, and the conference truly can’t run without the volunteers.

There’s much more that I’d love to share with you about the conference. This is just the start. Look for part two soon.

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Curds and Eh: TGIF at Fromagerie du Presbytère (get the scoop in Kelsie’s video)

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Kelsie is back with an amazing video about the festivities at Fromagerie Presbytere and some cool viz of cheesemaking taking place.  If you want to read more search “Curds and Eh” in the sidebar.  Or focus on Kelsie’s favourite new Canadian cheesemakers from 2012.  -SR

People often ask me what my favourite cheese is and I find that it’s such a hard question to answer. I usually change the question and respond, “Oh there are so many, but right now I’m enjoying ___________” or “well, if you were to limit my choices to goat milk blue cheeses from the Gulf Islands in British Columbia then I’d have to choose_______.”

But I wouldn’t hesitate if someone restricted all my future cheese consumption to only one fromagerie (ie. cheese factory). Before the challenge left their mouth, I’d blurt out “Fromagerie du Presbytère!”

Making cheese at Fromagerie-du-presbytere

Making cheese at Fromagerie-du-Presbytere

The aptly named Fromagerie du Presbytère is based out of a renovated Presbyterian rectory in Ste-Élizabeth-de-Warwick in the Centre-du-Québec region. It is home to two cheese companies, Fromagerie du Presbytère, maker of the multi award-winning Louis d’Or (among others); and Fromagerie Nouvelle France, producer of the multi award-winning Zacharie Cloutier.

There are three main reasons why I’d choose this fromagerie: the passion of the cheesemakers, their extraordinary cheeses and the community that comes together to support them.

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Jean Morin serves samples of Louis d’Or at the party

The Cheesemakers

Jean Morin (Fromagerie du Presbytère) and Marie-Chantal Houde (Fromagerie Nouvelle France) are always smiling. They are welcoming and playful and their passion and love of cheese is obvious. Together, they are on a mission to make the best cheese in the world and seem to be having a great time doing it.

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Laliberte cheese  triple cream cheese

The Cheeses

Between the two cheese companies, they make every style of cheese that I need. There are fresh cheddar curds, a rich triple cream, a sweet and creamy blue, a raw alpine style cheese, and a raw sheep cheese similar to Manchego. Both companies make extraordinary cheeses, the names of which often evoke the rich local heritage and culture.

Laliberté is named after Alfred Laliberté, a sculptor from Ste-Elizabeth-de Warwick who became a founding member of the Sculptors Society of Canada. Unlike his sculptures which were typically made from marble or bronze, the cheese is soft and melts in the mouth like butter. Laliberté is a triple cream with a bloomy rind and boasts flavours of vegetables, fresh mushrooms and cream. It’s a truly indulgent cheese.

Louis d’Or is named after a French gold coin and shares its name with the Morin family farm. This cheese is made in 40kg wheels, has a nutty flavour similar to a Swiss Gruyere and seems to win every competition in which it’s entered. It was crowned the Grand Champion of the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, earned a 3rd Place (Best of Show) spot at the 2011 American Cheese Society competition, and won five awards at the 2012 Selection Caseus in Quebec.

Zacharie Cloutier

Zacharie Cloutier

Zacharie Cloutier has the same braided reed patterned rind as Manchego but lacks the wax coating of its Spanish ancestor. This washed rind cheese has flavours of nuts and hay and is one of my favourites (I have many favourites but sheep cheeses have a special place in my heart). Zacharie Cloutier shares its name with an early settler of New France who happens to be a distant relative of Marie-Chantal Houde (and other Canadian celebrities such as Alanis Morisette, Louis St Laurent, Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion and Shania Twain, seriously).

Marie-Chantal separates the curds and whey

Marie-Chantal separates the curds and whey

Recently, Jean and Marie-Chantal collaborated and released a cheese made from a combination of their milks, raw Holstein and Jersey milk from Presbytere and raw sheep milk from Nouvelle France. The resulting cheese is named Le Pioneer, weighs in at 40kg and has been aged for a year. I haven’t tried it yet but I’m anxious too. It promises to be another outstanding product from two of the very best cheesemakers in Canada.

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The Community

The population of Ste-Élizabeth-de-Warwick literally doubles on Friday evenings during the warmer months of the year. Hundreds of visitors set up tables and chairs on the yard of the rectory where they enjoy fresh cheese with wine and beer. A retired baker bakes breads and sweets on site, musicians play from the balcony of the rectory, and people make new friends and catch up with old ones.

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The Friday gatherings are, in a way, a celebration of fresh cheese. While visitors to the fromagerie eat, drink and are merry on the grounds of the rectory, Jean, Marie-Chantal and their team are busy making cheese inside. The fresh cheese is available at three stages during the production process:

4pm – Fromage de petit lait – curds in whey. To be eaten from a bowl with a spoon.

5pm – Slab cheese – unsalted, unmilled, slabs of cheese (this isn’t cheddar yet!). Customers can sprinkle salt to add extra flavour.

6pm – Fromage en grain – AKA cheddar curds. Straight from the vat to the customers! Warm curds are a real treat.

Louis D'Or at the American Cheese Society Competition

Louis D’Or at the American Cheese Society Competition

This past summer I spent a Friday evening at Fromagerie du Presbytère. Their Friday parties are, perhaps the most honest celebration of cheese I’ve witnessed. There’s no corporate sponsorship, no advertising, no pretension, and no need to buy tickets. It’s simply a bunch of cheese lovers coming together to celebrate the work of two talented cheesemakers.

Here’s a little video my buddy Ian Langohr and I put together about our experience.

Weather permitting, Fromagerie du Presbytère will host the first Friday fête of 2013 on April 19th and they will continue EVERY Friday afternoon until the autumn.

I seriously hope no one will actually restrict all my future cheese consumption to just one fromagerie but if they did I think Fromagerie du Presbytère would be a great pick.

Now, if you were challenged to only eat cheese from a single fromagerie (it doesn’t have to be French), who would you choose and why? (You can be sneaky like me and choose two if you want)

And seriously, how can you actually choose one cheese to be your favourite!?

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Filed under Cheese/Cheese Related, Curds and Eh, Travel and Food, Uncategorized