The Lady is flying home today and has been forwarding her notes to me from the seminars she attended; lists of the experts she met and the Cheese Swells she rubbed the proverbial elbows with… so you can understand better what I mean when I say I’m doing all the heavy lifting here on the website and The Lady is grabbing all the glory… no matter how many lives I spend with humankinds I will never understand the level of their ego and hubris… but I digress…
Let’s talk cheeses…
Following Tuesday at Sartori with Master Cheesemakers Larry and Mike, Wednesday began early at Ancora with Mark and Logan and the group from Murray’s Cheese, including the gorgeous Winnie Anderson, only eight weeks old and already on her way to being a Cheese Swell. From there, they headed to Monona Terrace, an architectural beauty designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938. The conference site sits right on the edge of Lake Monona with breath-taking views of the water and Madison, particularly from the roof.
Mark, Logan and The Lady met up with about two hundred other Cheese Geeks, all nervous as cats on a hot tin roof and as one of the feline persuasion, I can tell you that Tennessee Williams had it right. I can’t tell you what they were doing but I can tell you at 4pm, they all sighed the sighs of relief and headed to a reception given by Emmi Roth featuring the Roth Family of cheeses and an open bar.
Then it was off to dinner at Great Dane where they started with fried cheese curds followed by Cheeseburgers and ending with Cheesecake… I feel a trend here in the dietary focus of the week.
They only had to cross the street to join the party at Merchant where Culture Magazine and BelGioioso treated them to drinks and… wait for it… cheese. The Lady reports that in Day 1 of the conference, she has tasted more than twenty different cheese, many with the 4 Paw distinction.
Thursday morning began early with a breakfast hosted by the Vermont Cheese Council where they were delighted to find a plate of cheeses from Vermont that included Cheddars from Cabot, Grafton Village and Neighborly Farm; Spring Brook’s Reeding, Consider Bardwell’s Rupert and Cultured Butter from the lovely Allison Hooper and Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery. What a great way to start the day.
The Keynote Speaker was Odessa Piper, a pioneer in the “eating local” movement. She shared her journey which started on a Vermont Commune where she tended the garden; progressed to her award-winning restaurant in Madison and her life as a writer in Boston.
Off Flavors in Milk Leads to Off Flavors in Cheese
The first seminar guided The Lady and her fellow Geeks through the off flavors of milk. Drs. Scott Rankin and RL Bradley adulterated more than a dozen bottles of milk with various defects and explained how they affect cheese. The bottom line is, you start with bad/off milk and you end up with bad/off cheese. “You can take good milk and make great cheese; but you can’t take bad milk and get anything better than bad cheese.”
Cheese Classes 101
After lunch, The Lady and Mark attended a seminar about organizing and conducting Cheese Classes to supplement your Cheese Education and create a separate revenue stream. On the panel were three Cheese Educators from Scardello in Dallas, The Cheese School of San Francisco and New York’s Murray’s Cheese.
Using Cheese Classes successfully can assist your business in the following ways: 1) Driving traffic into your shop; 2) Creating a separate revenue stream; 3) Educating your customers; 4) Educating your staff and 5) Building your brand.
Among the tips shared were topics for classes; previewing your classes for customers; building an email list; pricing appropriately for your customer; establishing firm cancellation policies and when to be flexible; determining your break even point for a class by proper portions, number of pairings.
Meet The Cheesemakers
As you might guess, this forum was a chance to get up close and personal with more than seventy-five cheesemakers and taste their cheeses; many only a couple days away from becoming 2013 ACS Award-Winners. The Lady wandered the hall, chatting with Patrick, Bill and Daniel from DPI; Michael from Beemster; Michael from Atalanta and her fellow travelers Mark, Logan and Brandon. They met many Makers whose cheeses they knew (and loved) and renewed friendships from earlier conferences and farm visits.
They chatted with Tonya, literally Kroger’s Big Cheese, and found a caramel sauce from Argentina’s Annabella made with Buffalo Milk… according to The Lady… to die for and had I been there… which sadly I wasn’t… would be worthy of a 4 Paw review.
In the evening they were treated to a reception on the roof hosted by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board where they were welcomed by the UW Marching Band. Sartori’s Master Cheesemakers, Larry and Mike were there as were so many other Cheese Swells that The Lady knows and admires.
From the reception they returned to Merchant’s and dined al fresco with Tim Smith of The Caves of Fairbault and formerly The Big Cheese at Kroger. It was great catching up with him…
Comte and Curds
Friday was a contrast in cheese approaches. In the morning, Logan, Mark, Brandon and The Lady attended an amazing session hosted by the Comte Control Board. They were treated to three different pieces of Comte, made at the same time of year, aged by the same Affineur but from three different Producer farms.
It was an eye-opener in terms of Terroir and how it affects the finished product. The panelists were experts on the various aspects of chemistry, cheesemaking, farming and flavor profiling. One of the slides shared explored the flavor profiles of four Comtes from four different producers. One shared NO similar flavor profiles and the other three shared no more than three.
What a great session to attend!
After lunch and a townhall meeting where Cathy Strange of Whole Foods announced that all producers will be required to have third party audits for sanitation safety in order to sell their product in WFM. She promised to attempt to keep the cost under $500 for the benefit of the small producers. As she said, when a recall is announced, the name in the headline is her company and the producers must become partners with her in guaranteeing the safety of their product. Hats off to WFM for taking this step.
Next up, Mark and The Lady headed to the Cheese Curd tasting with three producers that included our good friend Kerry Henning of Henning Cheese. It was one of her favorite sessions; lots of knowledge; lots of laughter and absolutely not an ounce of ego… curds are curds… enough said. Kerry produces 15,000 pounds a week; 20% of his cheddar production. SO… you do the math… curds are here to stay.
And the Winners Are:
And then it was time for the Awards Ceremony – more than 100 categories and a record 1794 entries.
Best of Show went to Winnimere from Cellars at Jasper Hill; runners up were Bear Hill from Grafton Village and in third place a tie from the same producer, Bleu Mont’s Bandaged Cheddar and Bleu Mont’s Big Sky Grana.
Dinner was at Icon with Sean of Food Match surrounded by pix of Hollywood icons, Marilyn, Frank, James Dean, John Wayne and many more.
After the dinner, The Lady walked the square around the Capitol Building, stopping at Fromagination, which was closed and enjoying the last light of the evening.
How to Hire and Inspire Cheesemongers for Life:
The Lady has declared this the most important session she attended whose panel on Saturday morning included Juliana Uruburu of The Pasta Shop and Zingerman’s Ari Weinzweig. Between the two of them, they have more than forty years of hiring and training specialty food employees. Their tips were invaluable: as simple as “If the applicant doesn’t smile at the interview, don’t hire them” to more of the detailed questions such as “Tell me ten things you can do with Gruyere”.
But the most important tip The Lady brought away from this seminar is “Treat your applicants and employees the same way you want them to treat your customers”. Now how simple and how complex that is.
There were so many other seminars The Lady was not able to attend but she heads home with so many wonderful memories; so much new knowledge; renewed passion and a heart filled with cheese love. Sadly she leaves Madison behind…