For months, my anticipation and excitement to attend the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference had been building. As much as I enjoyed the 2012 event, the anxiety from the Cheese Professional Exam lurked in the back of my mind, nibbling away my attempts to freely appreciate all it had to offer. With the CCP exam successfully behind me, it was time to have some cheese fun and I did.
Everyday of the American Cheese Society‘s conference features seminars, tastings, networking with other cheese nerds and everywhere you turn… cheese, glorious cheese.
As always, I came home re-energized about the cheese game with my passion rekindled.
The Man and I arrived in Sacramento the evening before the festivities began. The Man, as always, pretended to care about cheese and to share my excitement, to once again, be at Cheese Camp. Don’t get me wrong, The Man loves cheese but “Cheese Camp”… not so much.
July 28, 2014: Monday kept me busy with preparations for the conference and the third ACS CCP exam. I mentored several of the 2014 CCP candidates and at a DPI Specialty Foods hosted dinner Monday night, shared my experiences and remembrances of the 2013 exam with them. As you can imagine, no matter how much support I gave them, they were still nervous.
July 29, 2014: Tuesday began with breakfast and last-minute chatting about the CCP exam. I headed early to the convention center as I was one of several proctors assisting at the exam. The two hundred plus candidates began appearing around 11am, two hours before the exam began. The tension in the room rose with the arrival of each candidate. I remembered arriving at the same exam in 2013 and the terror that consumed me. I could relate. The first candidate to finish the exam clocked out at sixty-seven minutes.
The fine folks at Emmi-Roth hosted an open bar reception for the candidates as they finished the exam… a glass of wine and a slice of Emmi-Roth cheese was exactly what each of them needed…
After the Emmi-Roth reception many of us headed to the Hyatt for the Sartori Cheese reception which took place around the pool. Another open bar and lots more cheeses to taste and enjoy, including many of their American Originals in the BellaVitano line and America’s most decorated parmesan, Sarvecchio.
That evening Gourmet Foods International hosted a buffet dinner at a local brewery where we enjoyed pizza… with cheese, of course… and other local specialties and craft beers.
July 30, 2014: The day began with a pancake breakfast hosted by the Vermont Cheese Council. Each table in the room was graced with a “Hello, Gorgeous” cheese platter that included many award-winning Vermont cheeses including Harbison, Tarentaise, Pawlet, Reading, Cabot’s Alpine Cheddar, Shelburne Farms’ Two-Year Cheddar, Sugarhouse Edam, Willo Wisp and many more tasty cheeses whose names I failed to record… my bad…
While we were enjoying pancakes slathered with real Vermont Maple Syrup and Vermont Creamery’s Cultured Butter, Vermont cheeses and much appreciated fruits, Greg O’Neil, departing president of the ACS and Owner of Chicago’s Pastoral Artisan Cheese, declared the 2014 conference “officially” open and introduced our Keynote Speakers and legendary foodies, Darrell Corti and Narsai David.
After breakfast and before the first seminars, it was a chance to network with friends and check out the booths and bookstore in the lobby area of the convention center. I bought a copy of Ari Weinsweig’s “Managing Ourselves” and he autographed it for me. You can buy the book by clicking on the amazon icon at the bottom of this posting.
Each seminar session gives the attendees the opportunity to explore the ever-growing world of cheese. The first seminar I chose was “Food Safety Plan: A Primer” hosted by Charlie and Michael Kalish of Third Wheel Cheese and LLC/TWC Consulting. Because cleanliness is next to godliness in my profession and personal world, learning more about HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) protocols was right up my alley. Michael and Charlie took the participants through the prerequisites and the basics of setting up a robust HACCP program. They also explained the terminology as well as the key regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations and the FDA Food Code. I left the seminar with a firmer understanding of HACCP and its vital importance in the world of cheese and food… and my own kitchen… that should thrill The Man…
After lunch and the Annual Business Meeting, we headed to the “Meet the Cheesemaker” – a perennial favorite where American Cheesemakers show off their specialty cheeses and we get to taste them. It’s another chance to visit with hang with the Cheese Swells we admire… sort of our chance to swoon and meet our cheese legends and budding creators of tomorrow’s great American Originals.
I met Paula Lambert of The Mozzarella Company in Texas, one of our pioneering cheesemakers, who along with Mary Keehn, Judy Schaad, Allison Hooper and so many others truly began the revolution of American Originals. Andy Hatch sampled his Pleasant Ridge Reserve; David Gremmels was there… being the Cheese Ambassador that makes him David; Peggy Smith, the new ACS President, and Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery were in the house along with BelGioioso, Sartori, Goat Lady Dairy, Bellwether Farms, Carr Valley, Jacobs Creamery, Ewetopia Farms… the list goes on and on… one great cheese after another…
It was cool watching fellow cheese nerds taste new cheeses and stop to keep notes on their new discoveries.
July 31, 2014: Karoun Dairies hosted breakfast with more fresh fruit, baked goods, frittatas, cheeses, yogurts and other wonderful cultured products. The Cheese Plate that was the centerpiece of each table was another “Hello, Gorgeous” and delicious.
Before the day’s seminars begin, I attended a general session on “Full Traceability From Harvest to Plate: Developing Industry Standards From Within a Trade Organization”. The panel included Michael Antee from the USDA, Maryanne Guichard of the Washington State Department of Health and Terry Sawyer from Hog Island Oysters. Kate Arding of Culture Magazine moderated this fascinating study of how the oyster industry is able to literally trace every oyster from its bed to your plate.
Did you know you can ask a restaurant to prove the origin of the oysters on their menu and they should share with you the tag added by the producer at the time of harvest?
The seminar I chose to start my cheese day was “Comb Sweet Comb: Exploring a Taste of Place in Cheese and Honey”. Darrell Corti, Amina Harris (a Ph.D from UC Davis) and Marie Simmons paneled the tasting moderated by Louella Hill of San Francisco Milk Maid. This was my favorite seminar. The panel led the group through the tasting of four different honey varietals paired with different cheeses. This seminar gave me a chance to experience the different flavors of honeys from different pollens and different flowers and clovers. Quite frankly, before this class, honey was pretty much honey to be paired with brie or blue cheese…
We learned about the life of the honey bee which included learning all about the rotten deal thrust upon the drones… not pretty… and certainly not much fun unless they are among the very few picked to impregnate the Queen… they can’t collect pollen… heck, they don’t even have stingers and at the end of the day, just die off and go to wherever dead drones go.
We learned that one-third of all food in the United States is pollinated.
One honey bee lives only 5 to 6 weeks and makes only about a half teaspoon during that time. While their tasks change over that short lifetime it pretty much is: Collect the nectar, bring it back to the hive, transfer the nectar to another worker bee that transfers the nectar into the cells of the comb and then beat their wings to dry the cell… an amazingly boring process to create one of the few perfect foods in the world.
We each received a flavor wheel to assist with pairings when we return to our shops.
All honey, except honeycomb honey, is filtered, at least minimally, to remove stingers, wings and other detritus that gets caught in the comb.
Among the pairings, my personal favorite was High Plains Sweet Clover Honey and Annabella Buffalo Milk Fresh Mozzarella from South America and made from the milk of the only grass-fed buffalo herd in the Western Hemisphere. Actually, the High Plains Sweet Clover Honey paired well with all four cheeses.
Lunch was a Town Hall Meeting with an official of the FDA answering questions on the wood aging issue and the seven-day rule that pertains to surface-ripened cheeses cut in cheese shops… well, he kinda answered questions… mostly he waffled…
After lunch, my afternoon session was a wine and cheese pairing tasting. We paired two whites and two reds with four different cheeses. Anita Oberholster, a Ph.D. from UC Davis provided the science and Kirstin Jackson, Blogger of It’s Not You; It’s Brie, provided the “color” as to why some pairings work better than others.
Then it was time for the Main Event: 2014 Awards Ceremony. 248 Cheese Producers entered 1685 cheeses. Best of Show honors went to Farms for City Kids Foundation’s Tarentaise. Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company’s Point Reyes Bay Blue garnered second place honors and Oakdale Cheese and Specialty Company’s Aged Gouda walked away with third place honors. (A list of winning cheeses reviewed on this site will follow tomorrow.)
It was the Oscars of Cheese without the red carpet, the fancy get-ups (many of the winners were wearing shorts and flip-flops… as were the most of the audience, myself included), but with plenty of super stars…
August 1, 2014: Friday was a day of networking for me; catching up with more Cheese Swells and saying goodbye to those leaving before the Festival of Cheeses; the most amazing display of American Cheeses that one can ever imagine. My hats off to the Official Cheesemongers of the Conference, Randall Felts of Whole Foods and Kelsie Parsons of Sobeys, both ACS CCPs. The two of them and their volunteers protected and served cheese plates and created displays that were beyond anything I have created… but now I have lots of new ideas.
Lunch was the Brunch of Champions with bowls after bowls after bowls of yogurts, spreads, creams, butters, quarks, fromage blancs, mascarpones, ricottas and all kinds of fresh cultured goodies to pair with fruits and breads.
The Festival of Cheeses displayed more than 1200 cheeses, cut into triangles, sticks, squares, circles; shaved thin; stacked high; just about anyway you can display cheese… again, the Official Cheesemongers did a splendid job designing cheeses displays into works of art. I took more than one hundred pictures and am creating a slideshow which will appear here as soon as I figure out how to upload it… until then here are a few pictures for you to view… remember drooling may be hazardous to your computer keyboard… just sayin’…
It was definitely a 4 Paws week; one I wouldn’t trade for the world… thanks to everyone who helped make it perfect… you know who you are…