At Gordonzola.net, Gordon Edgar talks about the experience of being a judge at the American Cheese Society competition that just went down in Raleigh, NC:
Many cheese judgings use the 4H method, which is non-numerical. There are variations but usually judges taste and then (in their heads) rate the cheese before announcing “Gold,” “Silver,” “Bronze,” or “No award.” If judges are unanimous on “Gold”, the cheese is awarded “Double Gold” and those go into consideration for Best of Show.
Other competitions are scored technically. Dairy scientists are looking for perfect versions of a cheese by type. You have never seen Wisconsin dairy science folks excited until you see them hotly debating the merits of the Colby category!* Technically perfect cheese usually wins these competitions whether or not they are complex or powerful.
At ACS the technical judges are teamed up with aesthetic judges (cheese professionals who are not dairy scientists) in a good cop/bad cop situation. Technical judges start from 50 and grade down for mistakes. Aesthetic judges start from zero and award points for positive attributes. In this way a cheese may even get deductions and positive points for the same flavor attribute. An extremely sweet Cheddar, for example, may lose a little for not being classic, but may gain a lot if that aesthetic judge sees value in its unusual flavor attributes. This means that both technical cheesemaking and innovation can be rewarded in the same contest. It is also why cheese with big flavors usually wins Best of Show.
I have seen critiques of the ACS judging for this reason. I don’t believe that a technically perfect fresh mozzarella, for example, has ever come close to winning Best of Show. It can win its category, but BoS winners are usually in the Alpine family, blue category, washed-rinds, or aged: in other words, the big flavored cheeses.
This sounds a lot like dog shows like Westminster, where some breeds, no matter how perfectly they match their breed specifications, will simply never win (exhibit A: the long suffering Basset Hounds).
Read the full post here.
(Photo @2012 and courtesy of Gordonzola.net).