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My favorite thing about Wisconsin is all the cheese crap everywhere. It’s like suddenly everyone can suddenly see what's going on in my head. Despite the disastrous “World’s Largest Cheese Box” that I visited a few years ago, I have forgiven the state of Wisconsin. I just refuse to drive miles out of my way for the attractions anymore.

And why would I when I can just be driving down the road and see things like this:
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One must always stop at the Mars Cheese Castle. Someday I will have the courage to order a drink at the bar.
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Paul, where’s Babe? And why are you holding the axe like that. I don’t like that look in your eye
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And this will be the cover art for my emo album
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But seriously, this is creepy, right?
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Finally, my favorite new (to me) cheeses that I tasted at this year’s American Cheese Society conference… remember these aren’t necessarily my all time favorite American cheeses, just ones that either I hadn’t tried before or that were much better this year then ever before.

But first a picture of the cheese that is probably my favorite US-made cheese. Jasper Hill Winnimere. I just can’t get enough. I just want to dive in and submerge myself in the smoky cheese stink!
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I would say that the washed-rind cheeses* were the ones that really stood out. As a group they were tremendously improved from even last year. I would buy almost anything that was out there at the Festival of Cheese.**

In no particular order:

1. Sweet Grass Dairy Titan. I’ve love the Sweet Grass folks and their grass-fed cheeses (Green Hill, Thomasville Tomme etc.) for awhile but this washed rind one hit some new heights for them. Check it out if you can find it, I think it is in very short supply these days.

2. Pasture Pride goat cheeses. We’ve carried their 40# lb. cheddar and I always loved the name, quite possibly because we have “Cheese Pride” buttons for our cheese department. I had no idea they were making awesome aged goat cheeses though.

3. Prairie Fruits. At an event like this it can be hard for some cheeses to stand out. Washed-rinds and aged cheeses tend to be more memorable once you’ve tried 50 other cheeses. However, Prairie Fruits soft-ripened cheeses were nearly perfect. They don’t get out my way so I hadn’t heard of ‘em before but if you’re around Illinois, go get some.

4. It seemed like every time I tasted a cheese and went “wow” I’d look at the sign and it would be from Vermont cheesemakers Consider Bardwell Farm. So, if you can find it, do more than consider it, ok?

5. Hendricks Farm Telford Reserve We’ve carried their “Cow Pie” but this aged farmhouse cheddar is so flavorfull it verged on too much. Verged, mind you, it veered back at the last possible moment. Fruity, earthy. and a little intense in how the flavor explodes in your mouth.

6. Blackberry Farm Trefoil My notes were a casualty (the only one, I am a professional, believe it or not) of someone’s spilled beer during our room party but I guarantee it was good because it had lots of exclamation marks. Here’s what I can read: “ … awesome(sic)…!! … eep ? BIG …ar…mmmmm! Wh… re … ple? !!!” I can’t think of a better recommendation

7. Redwood Hill Kefir Goat kefir from Sebastopol! New!

8. Have I mentioned how awesome the Bellwether Sheep Yogurt is recently? It is quite possibly the awesomest yogurt made in this country.

9. Carr Valley Snow White won best of show. It’s a traditional (bandage-wrapped) cheddar made of goat milk. I have a little piece in my fridge that I smuggled back home.

10. Hidden Springs Their cheese is so great that I went and visited after the conference. Sheep pics are coming!

Cheese Bear says, “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.”
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*washed rind cheeses are, like the name implies, washed with something, usually salt, sometimes booze, that creates a good environment for certain bacteria. It’s why those cheeses tend to be more stinky and pungent. Examples are Taleggio, Pont Leveque, Livarot, Munster d’Alsace, and this Winnimere. Mmmmmmmmmm.

**Festival of Cheese is when all the cheese that professional cheesemakers send is put out in a huge, fancy hall for all of us to gorge on. Over 1000 cheeses from all over the US and Canada.
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Ok, let’s finish off this American Cheese Society conference. Between being sick then crazy busy at work this has dragged out too long.

First off, I wanna say hey to two new (to me) cheesy LJers. [livejournal.com profile] nahmo and [livejournal.com profile] buttonlass. In the ‘80s Nahmo used to tag along with his dad to the store I work at when his dad delivered tofu. Small world! He’s a cheese seller in Utah and pretty awesome. Buttonlass made sure I got invited to the big party at her workplace in Chicago. Thanks BL, I owe you one. I also saw the [livejournal.com profile] cheese_mistress and watched some crazy drama unfold around our group as she graciously tried to deflect it. No, I won’t get into details, but it was extra cringey.

But hey, forget that. Look, the Chicago skyline made of cheese:
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Dudes, this was a cheesecake!
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As always, there was massive cheese excess.
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(next entry: my favorite new (to me) cheeses)
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Because of the travel time and expense of the American Cheese Society conference being held in Chicago, a lot of cheese folks I know didn’t get to make it this year. One, Dee Harley of Harley Farms, asked me to pick up any awards she might win. I agreed, not knowing that the ceremony this year was going to be held in an actual theater and that for the rest of the conference people would seek me out to congratulate me on “my” awards. Ha!

I guest-blogged about it on the Harley Farms website so go read about it there

I had barely gotten into my seat when the Harley Farms name was first called and I got to step onto the stage from which stars such as Peter Falk, Henry Fonda, Uta Hagen, Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman, Lena Horne, James Earl Jones, Vivien Leigh, Myrna Loy, Joe Mantegna, Geraldine Page, Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, Jessica Tandy and Studs Terkel performed. Third place for Fresh, Unripened Goat Cheese for the Harley Ricotta. And tell Dee congrats while you're over there!

Since the blog isn’t really connected to her website, you can find the main Harley Farms site here

Oh look, bonus picture of me looking embarrassed;
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Here’s her big first place winning cheese. I couldn’t get to it before folks started eating off it.
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I spent a lot of time at the American Cheese Society conference stressed out about the panel I was moderating. I was stressed for a few reasons. 1. I proposed my panel and organized it 2. As I confessed a few weeks ago, public speaking scares me and 3. Right before we left town I got an e-mail saying 175 people had already pre-registered for it.

It should be noted that these are 175 cheese professionals so it’s not like I could bullshit like I do behind the cheese counter. (Joke!) Plus that email freaked my panel out. I heard from all of them within a couple hours of it going out. We scheduled an extra meeting at the hotel bar to keep everyone’s nerves at bay.

Our panel topic was “Keeping it Fresh: Harm Reduction for Cheese at Retail”.* I must admit that I used the phrase harm reduction as a joke and even as I thought it was a good metaphor I didn’t expect it to actually appear in the program titled that way. Now I feel all subversive. Today: maintaining humidity in the walk-in. Tomorrow: handing out needles in the park.

The panel went great. Juliana from the Pasta Shop,** Carlos from Zingerman’s, and Helder from Zuercher (a cheese distributor from Chicago) were all as nervous as I was but they didn’t show it. People seemed really pleased by the presentations especially after last year’s panel on affinage (cheese aging) that basically answered every question with “ You need to buy another cooler”.

Our message was fairly clear: except for a small handful of stores in the US, affinage is not for retailers. In fact, a few minutes into the panel I made the word “caaaaaaaaav” the word of the day ala Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Whenever a panelist or audience member said “caaaaaaaaav” everyone waved their arms and yelled. A room full of cheese professionals actually did this! Well, most of them anyways.

I haven’t gotten my evaluations yet, but I think most people walked away happy. Ricki Carroll, The Cheese Queen, someone I’ve always admired for not only being a founder of the ACS*** but for her politics got up at the end and thanked the panel for actually sharing information saying this was the panel she’d been waiting years to see at ACS and she now had more respect for retailers.

I was so exhausted that, even though it wasn’t quite noon, I had to go to the bar and skip the next session.




*The catalogue description: “Retailers who are truly set up to do affinage are few and far between, no matter what we may tell the customer. How do we maintain the integrity of the cheese we sell, factoring in the equipment we have available? Since many of us do not have extra room or extra money to buy a different cooler for every type of cheese, how can we make sure that the cheese we sell is of the best possible quality? How do we manage the cheese that arrives with defects or the cheese that we receive too young? Panelists will share tips, improvised strategies and practical solutions to handling problem and/or needy cheeses including detailing their attempts to create different climates in the same cooler.”

**I should probably link to the Pasta Shop site but Juliana’s mom made this personal site for her. Isn’t it cute?

***At the opening ceremony there was a video (made by The Cheese Chick about the history of the ACS and Ricki is filmed in her “Stop bitching, Start a revolution” tank top. Awwwwww.
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I made some concessions to the fact that the ACS conference is large now. With around 800 attendees, the sessions are much more lecture-based and even if one is able to ask a question there’s no time to discuss the answer. Therefore, I only go to subjects that are over me head or that I do not get stomach pains from attending because I want to give my point of view so badly.

Therefore, after the 25-year anniversary video and panel discussion at the general session, I went to “Understanding Butter Flavor” and then “Demystifying Rennets and Coagulants”. These were good for me because 1. I don’t buy butter for the store and 2. The rennet one was high-level cheesemaker talk, assuming a bunch of chemistry knowledge, not meant for retailers.

The butter workshop was really about the concept of scientificizing taste. I went to the panel by this professor at last years conference, and her work is around gathering groups of consumers,* teaching them how to name what they are tasting/smelling, and then graphing these results on the flavor wheel. In general, I think these types of studies have very limited uses, but they do have an industry one… how to study the regionality of acceptable flavor profiles and what types of people like what types of taste. Basically, better market research.

The attendees were such liars. Only 3 of us admitted to ever eating margarine.**

The gist of the panel was that if you are making so much butter that it will sit in warehouse refrigeration for over 9 months, you should freeze it. Makes sense to me.

The rennet converstation was hampered by storms on the Eats Coast preventing a panelist from attending. The great Marc Druart pinch hit, but unfortunately, without hand-outs, I had to write as fast as I could and just take in what information I could.

Turns out that I should have gone to the retailer/cheesemaker town meeting where war broke out over the fact that most large goat cheese producers in this country cannot meet their orders without the use of frozen curds.*** Embarrassingly, an employee from another goat cheese company denied using them even though it is common knowledge that they do. We are planning a panel discussion on this at the February Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference (and I wrote about it in my manuscript) But it is great to see this issue not being a dirty little secret anymore.



*interestingly enough mostly these groups are all women because women still make, by far, most of the purchasing decisions for grocery items.

**I only eat the non-hydrogenated Earth Balance stuff sometimes, but I grew up on margarine, I won’t deny its soft, over-salted goodness on certain things.

***Butter is produced somewhat seasonally (i.e. more butter is made when demand for Ice Cream is low, more butter is needed at the Nov/Dec food holidays than any other time, etc. ) so this isn’t just a question of mass production.

****Some frozen curds would be in house, saved from times when there is more milk for the times when goats are kidding. More commonly, these are bought from other regions or even other countries but not labeled as such. Poor locovores.
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My favorite part of the conference? Going out to dinner* with a few folks including a local (Bay Area) cheesemaker. The restaurant had family style seating and we were seated next to a local chef. After claiming he could say “I love cheese” in any language, he started talking about the cheese plate they serve. He bragged about how he only bought from one exclusive distributor and how he knew the owner personally.

Playing Who’s-Who with cheese people to our group is like bragging about your knowledge of mastitis to a herd of factory-farmed cows. The cheese world is small and it is notable that this distributor, who the chef was so proud to know, was not attending the conference in his own city.

Our cheesemaker pulled out his card to hand to the chef. Chef looked honored. Then our cheesemaker said, “Next time you see (redacted), tell him to fucking pay me!” We then all detailed our negative experiences with the distributor.

The chef then changed the subject by asking if we didn’t agree it was fucked up that his new wife, sitting across from him at the table, went off her birth control pills without discussing it with him first,

We called for the check.





*The dinner was at Avec which pretty much ruled. I am craving more tallegio-stuffed foiacaccia already. Plus they were playing a homemade Clash mix CD.
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I can tell I’ve been under a lot of stress lately because I’ve been doing some things I wouldn’t ordinarily do. For example, upon arriving at the airport last week, I discovered that I booked our ticket to Chicago a day early.

In the heat of getting ready to go to France, finish a ton of cheese work in order to not leave it to others, and trying to add a section to my manuscript before trying to sell it, I had booked the plane tickets for me and [livejournal.com profile] sheanadavis. Unfortunately, I had gone to the American Cheese Society website, seen registration on Wednesday morning and booked our tickets to get in on Tuesday afternoon. If I’d read further I would have seen that it was the early registration for people doing the optional Wednesday tours (that cost extra $) and that the real conference didn’t start until Thursday.

Duh.

The bright part about that was that I got to go to the unofficial party at Pastoral (Thanks again[livejournal.com profile] buttonlass!). It was on the roof of their building and filled with free beer and burgers, amazing views and chock-a-block with cheese folks. It was one of the best parts of the conference even if that night I mostly hung out with California folks I hadn’t seen for awhile. No networking or hidden expenses, just a good party.

Sheana and I spent the next day walking around downtown Chicago and drinking at, of all places, a restaurant at Navy Pier. It’s nice to know that Chicago has a Pier 39 too!

The local TV News thought the conference was funny.* Who can blame them?



*Sorry, there’s a commercial first.

ACS 2008

Aug. 1st, 2008 09:18 am
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I won't have time to write about the American Cheese Society Conference until next week, so here's a teaser. I'm thinking this should be my author photo for the book:

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