Tag Archives: Keslie Parsons

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, Eps 8: Home Curdy Home, Kelsie Parsons reflects on his cheese tour

Say Hi to Kelsie if you see him around–he’s easy to spot.

This post is part of a guest blog series by Kelsie Parsons.   See the Globe and Mail piece about his travels.

As August came to an end so did my cheese travels. I now keep my food in a fridge, know exactly where I’ll sleep each night and I spend my days on my computer writing about cheese. There is a certain comfort to being home and having a work routine but I do miss being on the road driving every day, interviewing cheese makers and meeting their cows, goats and sheep.

Checking out Brendan’s beehives

The drive home went quicker than expected. I started in Naniamo, took a ferry to Vancouver, visited two cheesemakers then drove to Nelson, BC to visit my brother. We spent a day together checking out his beehive and watching Kokanee (fresh water salmon) spawn. The next day I hit the road again and visited Kootenay Alpine Cheese in Creston, BC then drove to Regina.

Calf at Kootenay Alpine Cheese

The next day I drove from Regina to Thunder Bay, slept in the Walmart parking lot and then did a long haul home to Stratford, ON. Three and a half months on the road sounds like a long time but it meant I only had a couple of days to spend in each city. To me the summer was a whirlwind tour of Canada but I discovered many cities that I’d love to return to.

Kokanee spawning in BC

While in a café in Winnipeg, I learned their wifi password is “every day I live my dream” (without the spaces). That phrase really stuck with me. I’m so fortunate to be studying something that I love and to work towards a book that up until now I’ve only dreamt about writing. It may sound strange (to some people) but I actually think about cheese all day and occasionally I dream about it at night. It’s kind of an obsession.

When I started in the cheese business I worked for Gurth Pretty, author of The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheese. In 2006, when Gurth’s book was published it was groundbreaking. No one had ever written such a comprehensive survey of Canadian cheesemakers. I was inspired by Gurth to follow my passion for cheese and to write a book of my own. By writing a book, my goal is to help others discover the world of cheese made in Canada. There are amazing cheeses, cheesemakers and mongers across the country and they deserve to be recognized!

Forms filled with Curds at Salt Spring Island Cheese

Over the past 3.5 months I visited cheesemakers in all 10 provinces and drove over 25,000km. I sampled cheese from 118 Canadian cheese producers and took thousands of photos. I flew to St. John’s, Newfoundland to visit 2 new cheesemakers and took a five hour ferry to Iles-de-la-Madeleine just to visit a cheesemaker. Every single day this summer was an adventure. Every day I learned something new and every day I lived my dream.

By nature of my adventure I ate a lot of cheese (it’s a perk of the job really). Many people have asked me what my favourite Canadian cheese is but it’s so hard to pick just one. Could you? I’ve narrowed down my list to about 30 favourites. What are they? Well, you’ll have to wait for the book! I can’t give it all away here.

A dark and Stormy cheese he means…..Illustration by Dave Donald.

Now it’s time to write a book.

For Curds and Eh 1 (the itinerary), click hereCurds and Eh 2 (Quebec), Click Here, Curds and Eh 3 (Quebec) , click here ,  Curds and Eh 4 (St.John’s), Curds and Eh 5 (Thunder Oak Gouda), Curds and Eh 6 (Cheese Festivals) and Curds and Eh 7 (Cheese Rolling ).

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