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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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Toast Post: Cheese Wedges to Fill Your Stocking Toe


There’s always too much good cheese and not enough space in my Globe column to include it all so I’ve listed a few other cheesy ideas below (with advice from our local cheese mongers in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver).

SOBEYS (Ontario)

Fiscalini Ageing Rooms (photo from Fiscalinicheese.com)

Fiscalini, Clothbound Cheddar:

Andy Shay, the cheese buyer at Sobeys has just brought this California cheese into stores within the last week.  Made in traditional English style, this cheddar is a world-class award winner (including “outstanding Cheese of the Year”).  I’ve been looking forward to this one like, well, like a kid at Christmas.  (Also ask for it at Les Amis du Fromage in Vancouver)

Juliet Harbutt’s Line of British Cheese:

(For a detailed list of the whole line see my post on British Cheese)

Specially picked for best quality (and also keeping in mind being stored at a larger retailer) all these cheeses are fairly hardy and can be left out for an afternoon of nibbling.  The Stilton is made by Cropwell Bishop who make some of the most outstanding examples of this product.

A TASTE OF QUEBEC (Toronto)

Pied De Vent (photo from fromagesduquebec.qc.ca)

Located in the beautiful Distillery District the store carries only Quebec products.  Aside from amazing cheese you can get Quebec honey, charcuterie, preserves and lots of other easy to prepare nibbles.  Suzanne at the store recommended the following:

Pied de Vent

The name of this cheese refers to the sun’s rays peeking through the clouds. It has a copper-coloured rind and buttercup yellow paste. Until recently, Pied de Vent was only available in Quebec. This luscious cheese has a supple paste with a full, meaty aroma. The flavours are buttery, robust and nutty. A great after-dinner cheese all by itself.  (Also at Loblaws Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, and Les Amis de Fromage, Vancouver)

La Tomme des Demoiselles

A hard pressed  cheese aged more than 6 months with salty and fruity flavours.  Made by the producers of Pied-de-Vent and also raw milk.

EVERYTHING CHEESE (Edmonton)

Chaource (photo from aritisinalcheese.com)

The scoop from Tania and Lydia at this great new (just over a year old) cheese shop in Edmonton is the following:

Chaource

This decadent double-creme is made in France’s Champagne region and is the perfect pairing for your bubbly.

Gingha Fruit Cheese

This  “Scottish Pear” is made with a mix of Scottish cheddar, cream cheese and pear Schnapps. It is formed in the shape of a pear and covered in wax.  (See how easy it is to eat more fruit?)

They also carry Shropshire Blue and classics like Epoisses, Valencay (so gorgeous on a cheese board), and Robiola (Heaven is a gooey Robiola).

LES AMIS DU FROMAGE (Vancouver)

Cropwell-Bishop Stilton

Allison at Les Amis was kind enough to stop and email me some ideas in between the holiday rush.  I’m putting my money on the Ported Stilton– apparently it’s going very fast!

Ported Stilton

The right way to marry your port and Stilton–have a professional do it.  “We pierce the outside of the Stilton and pour Port into the wheel, we start at the beginning of November and give it at least 6 weeks,” says Allison.

Goat Cheeses

They have lots of fabulous little goat cheese with fresh ash, Espelette peppers, aged pyramids, logs buttons, leaf-wrapped and soaked in Marc.

(these types of goat cheese are so lovely they must be seen to be appreciated, go immediately)

Mountain Cheeses

My favourite  cheese category–they’ve got lots reports Allison,  including Abondance from Savoie and Le Marechal from Switzerland.

BLUE CHEESE

Blue Juliette (photo from Provincial Fine Foods)

Today’s column, The Spread was based around Stilton and Roquefort and blues in general.  It was quite a struggle to whittle down, and here are a few other blues that you might consider (amongst dozens!  I know!)

Blue Juliette, pasteurized goat, BC

This soft, creamy, shadow of a blue is made from goat milk and hails from Salt Spring Island, BC.  There ‘s no oxygen allowed into the interior of this soft-ripened cheese so the mold only develops in a lace-like blue/green pattern on the rind.  Beautiful on a cheese board and only mildly feisty.

Montbriac (also known as Roche Baron), pasteurized cow, France

If Cambozola’s been your blue cheese compromise, ditch it for a sexy French ally.  A brie-like bloomy rind cheese that gets silky and runny when ripe, its exterior is a striking charcoal colour due to the ash covered rind.  Blue mold is minimal but creates a rich, tangy flavour with a hint of spice.

Erborinato al Cacao e Rum, raw cow, Italy

Tis the season of pampering, and if you’re hoping to indulge your guests look no further than this Erborinato from Italy’s Piedmonte region.  This blue is Infused with 8-yr old rum and coated in cocoa powder.  A hard-to-get cheese with an appropriate price tag, it’s currently available at Toronto’s Cheese Boutique. 

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Cheese Whiz: British Cheese Tasting with Juliet Harbutt

That’s a half-wheel of Stilton (producer is Cropwell-Bishop)  staring you straight in the face.  And holding it is Juliet Harbutt, British cheese guru and knower of all things cheese-related. (There, I think I’ve deftly summed up Juliet’s dense full page resume of achievements).  Juliet, among many other things, started the British Cheese Awards in 1994 to help recognise excellence in British cheese.  She was in town last week (at The Cookbook Store) promoting a selection of British cheeses in Canada.

The entire selection consists of sixteen traditional cheese that have been consistent medal award winners at the British Cheese Awards. Only about 30% of 900 entries each year garner a medal and 22 “rise to the top” says Juliet.   Sobey’s is carrying six of her sixteen choices exclusively at their stores. (There is a bonus 7th cheese on the plate below)

So shall we get on with our tasting?

Starting at NOON (with the vibrant orange Red Leicester and moving clockwise)

1. Red Leicester

This was interesting for me.  I love Red Leicester and usually only buy the farmhouse clothbound version.  Tasting it next to the larger scale industrial version, there is no comparison.  But Juliet introduced us to this younger non-clothbound version which is made at a big creamery, but using artisinal methods.  It is made by The Pembrokeshire Cheese Company, a farmer’s cooperative in West Wales.

This wedge was younger than what I was used to but still had the savory-sweetness that intensifies as it ages.  Beautiful on a cheeseboard and easier to slice for a snack (or sandwich) when it is softer and younger.

2. Creamy Lancashire

Have you ever had a cheese and thought it was so-so and thus never tried it again?  (bad–don’t ever do that. Give Cheese a Chance)  I did that with Lancashire.  I had a crumbly, drier wedge one time and gave up.  This has me converted.  It’s buttery, tangy and richly mouth-coating.  Made with a loose curd, you can see the delineations where they been pressed together to form the cheese.  I mention Lancashire in my Globeholiday cheese column ….(PLUG!)  Juliet described the Lancashire as having a “raw onion tang”

3. Double Gloucester

Hailing from Lancashire England, the producer of this Double Gloucester is Butler’s Farmhouse Cheese.  It is made using traditional methods in open vats, cloth bound and matured for up to 8 months.  There is a slight hint of orange-pink to the paste as it is coloured with annato (a natural colouring from a South American seed also used in orange cheddar and the Red Leiscester).  Dense, nutty and firm textured.

Pale Orange Double Gloucester

4. Oak Smoked Lyburn Farms

Loved this one.  The smoke is subtle and delicate.  It’s naturally flavoured over oak chips and the milk comes from the cheesemaker’s own farm.  The cheeses has a caramel coloured rind and will win you over if you’ve been turned off by over-smoked fellows that leave a campfire in your mouth.

5. Wyfe of Bath

This was the “bonus” cheese and is not available at Sobey’s.  Wyfe of Bath is a creamy, buttery cheese made from organic milk and molded in cloth-lined baskets..   Juliet’s  identified a “rubber boot aroma” (that sharp, pleasant new-ness).

6. Special Reserve Shropshire Blue

The bright orange blue cheese on the upper left of the plate is the Shropshire Blue.  Made at Cropwell Bishop (as is the Stilton) it’s based on the Stilton recipe but was actually created in Inverness, Scotland in 1970.  Annato gives it its colour.  Peaks  at 3 months.  Not as strong as Stilton you still get buttery, cocoa notes and a real punch of colour on the cheese board.

Half-Stilton

7. Special Reserve Stilton

Only five producers make Stilton. Cropwell Bishop is one of them and the family has been making Stilton for over three generations.  Milk suppliers are hand-picked to ensure the quality of this famous cheese.  Also peaking at 3 months, this 13 week old piece was buttery, spicy with a dark cocoa flavour on the finish. You can see the beautiful, and typical “shattered porcelain” veining in the piece Julia is holding at the top.  Stilton is a dense cheese so the blue veining spreads in a finer, spidery pattern than seen in a looser blue like Roquefort.

Finally, if you’re looking for a great reference book of the cheese sort, The World Cheese Book edited by Juliet is great.  You can just have it sit by the bedside and nightly flip through pictures and well-written, succinct information about the world’s major cheeses.

Then you will hop out of bed for a midnight snack.

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Filed under Cheese/Cheese Related, Ruminations on the Edible, Toast Posts