Via Cheese Chick Productions, aka Christine Hyatt, this graph shows the rise in entries to the American Cheese Society annual competitions since 1987. In that first year, there were 170 cheeses, whereas in last year’s competition in Raleigh, NC (which I attended), there were 1711, impressive growth to say the least! And this year’s ACS in Madison, WI is guaranteed to receive still more. You can check out Cheese Chick’s full post on the topic here as well as learn more about her “Best of Show” project, for which she will be photographing and blogging about some of the top winners from years past.
The 2013 competition will welcome more than 1700 entries – ten times the entries of the early years. Something that bodes well for the industry and cheeselovers alike – much of the growth has been in the last ten years. In 2003, the Judging and Competition welcomed 468 cheeses. Two years later, in 2005, 725 cheeses were entered. In 2007, the number jumped to 1201 and, by 2012, that number had jumped by 500 cheeses, to 1701 entries.
Not only have the numbers grown, the quality and availability of American made artisan and specialty cheeses has grown as well. When I first entered the cheese industry in 1998, the majority of cheeses – and the most interesting cheeses – were from Europe. Today, the finest cheese shops carry a wide variety of homegrown cheeses, and a few focus exclusively on American cheeses. Quite a sea change in fifteen years.
As the competition has grown, winning top honors in one of 22 categories comes with big bragging rights and is the entry ticket for making it to the final round of judging and eligibility for Best in Show honors. Taking Best of Show can launch a cheesemaker onto center stage and help propel a business toward even greater success. For a number of small producers, winning the accolades really put them on the map.
Read the full post.
(Image ©2013 cheesechickproductions.com)
The American Cheese Society has posted their formal response to the FDA’S draft report on Listeria risk in soft-ripened cheeses. Important reading, and hopefully the FDA will take it seriously (although I am admittedly pessimistic, given their track record):
American Cheese Society Comments in Response to: Joint FDA/Health Canada Quantitative Assessment of the Risk of Listeriosis from Soft-Ripened Cheese Consumption in the United States and Canada: Draft Report
We are concerned that the conclusions and take-away messages from the risk assessment may be based on an incomplete data set and thus may not be wholly accurate. First, the report suggests to consumers and regulators that soft-ripened cheeses carry a high risk of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes; when in fact, the evidence and history suggest that the risks are low from such cheeses made in compliance with current regulations. Second, as reflected in media coverage, the report suggests that soft-ripened cheeses made from unpasteurized milk are significantly more risky than those made from pasteurized milk; when in fact, the analysis indicates that at least one strategy considered in the report can reduce risk in raw milk products below that of pasteurized products. Many other strategies remain unexplored.
We are concerned that the net impact of these misrepresentations may lead to reduced sales of safe cheese products and increased regulatory efforts beyond those justified by empirical evidence. This is of particular concern as this approach may set precedent for future risk assessments. We offer two sets of reflections on the analysis, separating analytical concerns and suggestions from issues reflected in the presentation of conclusions.
One interesting section discusses the recent changes to Quebec’s laws regarding raw-milk cheeses: rather than setting a required minimum aging time and calling it a day, they have followed France’s lead, and focus on rigorous handling and processing requirements to ensure safety:
In Canada, as of September 2009, the province of Québec allows the manufacture and sale of soft and semi-soft cheeses made from raw milk that have not been aged for 60 days if the manufacturer meets requirements prescribed in the provincial regulation respecting food. A thorough description of the interventions set forth in this regulation warrants investigation in the current assessment. For example, a description of how effective or ineffective this program has been is warranted. After three years of implementation, this real world data on the efficacy of regulation is critical to inform the present assessment. One could assume Health Canada’s interest in conducting the present assessment is based on information gleaned from the efficacy of the intra-provincial regulation to inform future inter-provincial regulations.
Read the full report here (PDF).
A fun day at VIAC: Sensory Evaluation. The white vials contain a ricotta paste used to “Calibrate” your taste buds to certain levels of the listed qualities (eg Bitter, Sweet etc); the green vials contain blind smell samples which we had to sniff and identify (everything from caramel to cauliflower to cloves to hardboiled egg).
We were then given lessons in the evaluation of a cheese according 9 parameters: External Appearance, External Aroma, Aroma (Paste Odor), Visual Evaluation, Hand Evaluation, Flavor, Texture, Taste, Trigeminal Stimulations (Pungent, Astringent) and Aftertaste.
Finally, the day ended with a sample judging of cheeses according to the American Cheese Society methodology, in which two judges pair up, one taking on the Technical Judge role and the other the Aesthetic Judge role. It’s kind of a good cop/bad cop relationship actually, with the Technical Judge given jurisdiction over evaluating the negative traits of the cheeses (Off Aromas, Flavors, Defects in Texture, Body and Rind), while the Aesthetic Judge is in charge of the positive evaluations (the same categories, but whereas a Technical Judge might find an “unpleasantly earthy aroma”, the Aesthetic would judge it “pleasantly fruity”. The scores are then added together (after the Technical Judge has subtracted points for defects), and then compared against the other cheeses within the category to determine the winner.
That’s the short version anyways! I’ll be posting more in detail in the coming week about my experiences at VIAC, once I get home!
From The Cheese Chick, aka Christine Hyatt, chairwoman of the American Cheese Society and a dedicated videographer and photographer of all things cheese, a video slideshow of ACS Best of show winners from past conferences. This is more of a teaser, as the cheeses aren’t labelled so you’ll have to guess at their identity, but this is part of a larger project that she has undertaken and that will be unveiled at the ACS conference in Madison, WI this summer.
Over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution site, John Kessler looks into the renaissance in Southern cheesemaking, including established names like Sweetgrass Dairy and rising stars like Sequatchie Cove (makers of the ACS Conference sensation-cheese Dancing Fern, one of my American Cheese Month picks):
Sequatchie Cove Creamery is one of dozens of quality small farmstead creameries that have opened in the Southeast in recent years. Producers throughout the region — from the Appalachian Mountains to the coastal plain — are making quality small-batch cheeses from cows, goats and sheep raised on their own farms. Just a few years ago, the only cheese the South was known for was of the pimento variety, as Southern cheese production virtually ceased during the industrialization of the 1950s and 1960s. But all that has changed, and the region has a newfound cachet.
Amanda Parker of Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York says that her colleagues were blown away by some of the cheeses they tried at the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival in Nashville in early October. “There seems to be a lot more interest in the South, a lot more people being exposed to great cheeses.”
“The South is rising again in farmstead dairy,” said MaryAnne Drake, a professor of food science at North Carolina State University who’s a consultant for the many small dairies that have turned to cheese making in recent years.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a few pioneers such as Sweet Grass Dairy and Fromagerie Belle Chèvre of Elkmont, Ala., began making small-batch cheeses. They would win the occasional medal at a cheese competition but were treated as curios — good cheese from the Deep South.
read the full post here.
(Photos ©2012 AJC.com)
Andy and Mateo Kehler have gone underground. After apprenticing with several local and international farmstead cheesemakers and perfecting their own artisanal cheeses, the brothers built a cave: the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Of the network of seven climate-controlled rooms that required hauling away more than 2,000 truckloads of rock, Mateo says, “I think the basic formula is dig a big hole, dump in money, and bury it.” The investment lets them produce rich blue and washed-rind soft cheeses. It also lets them serve as finishers for other local dairy farmers, who would otherwise never have access to a cave: Jasper Hill provides the space and the staff who hand-turn the cheeses. The results are on par with the best offerings from abroad—and challenge any ideas about super-market products: Cabot’s award-winning Clothbound Cheddar is a joint venture with Jasper Hill. Mateo insists that “other cheesemakers aren’t the competition,” he says. “As a group we compete for the person who hasn’t had that awak-ening yet. We want the person who bites into a Hervé Mons Camembert, and the light comes on.”
See all the honorees at the American Made site.
This red-rinded beauty is Contralto cheese, from Andante Dairy. Andante is helmed by Soyoung Scanlan, a biochemist-turned-dairy scientist-turned cheesemaker who started her cheesemaking career in 1999 and has made a name for herself in the California cheese world since. Andante is actually a musical term, meaning “a moderately slow tempo”, and many of her cheeses, including the Contralto (“The lowest female voice or voice part, intermediate in range between soprano and tenor”) have names derived from musical notation, and Soyoung refers to herself as the “soloist cheesemaker” at Andante.
Contralto is a washed rind goat’s milk cheese with the trademark orange-pink rind and creamy texture of a washed cheese; at the same time, it is strikingly lacking in the strong aroma and pungency one would expect from a washed rind, never mind one of the goat family. The delicate, lightly eyed paste of this mild, creamy cheese has an herbaceous, milky flavor with just a hint of goaty tang.
SeriousEats.com featured a profile on Scanlan recently.
Purchased at Brooklyn Larder.
Given it’s name, San Andreas, from Bellwether Farms, is far more subtle and smooth than the geological fault line for which it is named. You probably won’t experience any earthquakes in your mouth, but you will enjoy yourself as you consume it.
San Andreas is a raw sheep’s milk Pecorino-style cheese, made with the milk of East Friesian Sheep on the Bellwether farm, along the Pacific Coast in Sonoma County, California. Owned by the Callahan family, Cindy and Ed started the cheesemaking operation, before their son Liam came on board and took over the job of crafting their fine cheeses. Cindy and Ed spent time in Italy, working with farmstead cheesemakers, and it shows in their product.
Made in the style of a Tuscan Pecorino, with a smooth golden rind, the paste is ivory-hued and scattered with eyes, smooth and creamy in texture. The flavor is mild, sweet and tangy, with the trademark sheep’s milk gamey characteristics, nutty and grassy notes, and a pleasantly sour finish.
Bellwether Farms also makes sheep’s milk yogurt in a variety of flavors. While it is in no way “diet” food (sheep’s milk has close to twice the fat and protein of cow or goat’s milk, which is why it’s so great for cheesemaking), it is delicious!
Purchased at Murray’s.
Dancing Fern, from Nathan Arnold, cheese maker at Sequatchie Cove Farms, from Sequatchie Cove, Tennessee, near Chattanooga. Coming from a state better known for Nashville, the Smokey Mountains and Jack Daniels than for cheese, the Dancing Fern is just one more example of the rapid spread of the artisan cheese making movement to the four corners of the nation, and is a perfect tasting with which to kick off American Cheese Month.
Sequatchie Cove may be a relative newcomer to the cheese world, but they’ve entered it with a splash: “Have you tried the Sequatchie Cove yet??” was a question I got asked at least three times while wandering around the Festival of Cheese at the ACS Conference in Raleigh this August. Tucked in a corner of one of the long tables overloaded with cheese, it seemed to have garnered an outsized amount of attention. Even Gordon Edgar weighed in with strong praise, post-convention, saying of the Dancing Fern, “This is the one cheese I voted for in my personal top 3 which didn’t make the Best of Show/Runners up list. This is the best American version of a Reblochon that I have ever tasted.”
Indeed, while it didn’t win Best In Show, it did score First Place in the “Farmstead Soft Cheese” category. And while it is currently hard to find outside the South, it has started to find its way to NYC, and cheesemongers like Beecher’s now have it in stock. But move fast: when I went to get mine they were already down to just a few wheels.
A good Reblochon is extremely difficult to find in the States: traditionally made from raw milk, the pasteurized versions that make their way to us lack the depth of flavor and character that the real stuff has. There are some great “Reblochon-style” cheeses available, like the Swiss-made Stanser Schaf Reblochon, a washed-rind Sheep’s milk version (recently reviewed here http://cheesenotes.tumblr.com/post/31897322648/stanser-schaf-reblochon ) which is absolutely delicious in its own right, but is not, properly speaking, a Reblochon. (You can read more about Reblochon, and the unusual provenance of its name, here.)
Dancing Fern is made in 1 Lb wheels with the milk of Devon cows — an heirloom breed far less common in the States — and aged for just over 60 days, allowing it to be made with raw milk. With a delicate, pillowy white rind over a golden-hued, velvety oozing paste, the flavors are reminiscent of a rich, cultured butter with notes of walnuts, mushrooms and grasses with a lovely earth, musty undertone. A delicate, even mild cheese but with an impressive depth and complexity.
This is a seasonal and, for now, mostly regional cheese, so get it while it’s around or wait until next year! Meanwhile I’m looking forward to trying the rest of the Sequatchie Cove family of cheeses, which will hopefully be following their sibling northwards in short order.
Purchased at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese.
The Second Annual American Cheese Month is here! For the entire month of October, cheese mongers, makers and educators will be holding events in honor of America’s great — and rapidly growing — bounty of homegrown cheeses. I’ll be reviewing some recent discoveries and old favorites of American cheese throughout the month. Many of the other cheese blogs will have ACM-related content as well, including Chris at Wedge In The Round, whole will be reviewing 31 cheeses in 31 days in honor of the event (having some experience with cheese-a-day challenges myself thanks to the 365 Cheese Challenge of 2011, I say, godspeed!)
One of the best parts is the Passport program, which gives you great discounts on select cheeses at participating shops.
October is the 2nd Annual American Cheese Month, and cheese retailers around the country are celebrating by participating in the American Cheese Month (ACM) Passport Program!
Launched in 2011, the Passport Program is designed to generate consumer enthusiasm for American artisan, farmstead, and specialty cheeses. Customers are invited to purchase a passport at any participating retailer for $10. The passport provides a discount ranging from 20-40% off a designated “cheese of the day” at each retailer from October 1-31, 2012. The passport is valid at all participating retailers; the specific cheeses and discounts offered each day will vary by store. 100% of the proceeds from passport sales will benefit the nonprofit American Cheese Education Foundation, which funds educational opportunities and scholarships for cheesemakers.
Twelve retailers in two states participated in the inaugural program in 2011. In 2012, the program has more than doubled to include 30 retailers in 17 states. Passport-holders can find a full list of participating retailers on the American Cheese Month website, and they can follow the American Cheese Society’s Twitter feed for updates on participating companies and their featured cheeses throughout the month of October.
“The American Cheese Month Passport Program offers a unique opportunity for consumers to try excellent American cheeses at reduced prices while also supporting their local economy,” says Nora Weiser, Executive Director of the American Cheese Society. “Whether you’re a cheese connoisseur or you’re new to the world of artisan cheese, you’re bound to discover new favorites from some of America’s best producers this October.”
Check out a full list of participating retailers here.