2008 ACS Conference Blog: Wrapping It Up

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8:30am — Is Selling Up Selling Out? was a discussion about the choices cheesemakers have for selling their product, from the small retailer to Whole Foods to Costco. Steve Jones of Steve’s Cheeses in Portland, OR represented the small retailer, and he explained how his store’s motto is: “Buy less, come back more often!” He told us that he’s committed to cutting all cheeses to order and turning over his stock every 10 days whenever possible. Cathy Strange, the worldwide cheese buyer for Whole Foods, gave a ringing defense of Whole Foods commitment to buying locally and directly from producers whenever possible. She said that although that Whole Foods’ volume doesn’t permit them to cut-to-order all of their cheese, they will when asked. Then Costco representative Dave Dugan described the Costco chain and how they sell their cheeses (which he described as a “high velocity item”), emphasizing the “by the pallet” aspect of their distribution systems, and that they try to limit their total cheese SKUs to about sixty (vs. about 250 cheeses that WF carries). It was interesting to hear that Whole Foods would decide NOT to carry a cheese that was being sold at a large “discounter” — specifically WalMart — but would be willing to refer customers to local small retailers for cheeses that they didn’t carry.

10:15pm — Flavor and Ripening Cheese Cultures 2: with Stevens Funk and Dave Potter was a “continuation” of a talk given at the Burlington, VT conference in 2007 which introduced the concept of Adjunct Cultures to cheesemaking: adding cultures solely for their enzymatic properties, rather than for that plus their expressed properties. An example would be to add a Pc mold to a cheddar cheese that would be aged in cryovac bags. The Pc needs oxygen to grow, and lacking that would never create a bloomy rind on the cheddar before dying as the cheese aged. However, the Pc cells would still contribute their internal enzymes to the cheese after dying, which would be different from the normal mix of mesophilic culture enzymes, and thus create different compounds and flavors during aging than a cheddar would without the adjunct culture. Given the hundreds of strains of different moulds and cultures used in cheesemaking, each with a slightly different affect on cheeses during aging, there are many new possibilities for flavor development in aged cheeses (fresh cheeses, which primarily depend on active cultures for flavors would not be as affected by Adjunct Cultures).
milpark_fountain

After lunch I walked up Michigan Ave. to Milennium Park, at the top of Grant Park, which is a newly designed and constructed sculpture park with lots of new public amenities. One of them is a very cool (literally!) plaza with two glass brick towers/sculptures/fountains that contain computer controled LEDs that will display video images. Pictured above is one of the hundreds of faces of ordinary Chicagoans that the artist filmed for the series. Each face displays for five minutes with various expressions, ending with puckered lips at the same time that a jet of water shoots out of the tower at the spot of the video lips. Meanwhile water continuously cascades down the towers, making it a great place to cool off in the hot Chicago summer.

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3:30pm — Wine vs. Beer Smackdown: Which Goes Better With Cheese? pitted Greg Hall from Goose Island Brewing Co. (Chicago) against a wine distributor filling in for the sommellier from Fahrenheit Restaurant pairing their products with four different cheeses to explore what works and try to find new or unconventional combinations. The four cheeses were an aged cheddar (Bleu Mont Dairy Co. Bandaged Cheddar), a blue cheese (Rogue Creamery’s Organzola), a “stinky” rind ripened cheese (Jasper Hill Farm’s Winnimere), and a sheep milk cheese (Ocooch Mountain from Hidden Springs Creamery). The only thing that was missing was a fresh goat cheese, but that will have to be at next conference.
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The wine samples were a smooth red wine (Kana Dark Star 2005, a Rhone style blend) because “Cabernet [and other wines with big tannins] is NOT a friend of cheese”; and a light 2006 Yamhill Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Blanc. The beers were a very malty and lightly hopped Belgian-style ale from Goose Island called “Pere Jacques”; and a very hoppy pale ale style called “Alpha King” from Three Floyds brewery. Greg won the coin toss, so we started with the beers first: the smooth malty-fruity Belgian-style ale went really well with most of the cheeses, especially the stinky-gooey Winnimere (in fact this was my favorite combo of the whole exercise) that had parallel fruity notes. But the Pere Jacques was equally good with the two aged hard cheeses. The pale ale style beer did not go well with most of the cheeses since the bitterness of the hops highlighted the bitterness in the aged cheese, and it fought they stinky-fruit of the Winnimere. It was only OK with the Organzola, where as the Pinot Blanc was pretty good with the blue cheese. It had a pronounced raspberry honey aroma but a dry citrus taste, and it also matched well with the two hard cheese. It also fought with the Winnimere. The red wine had cherry and cocoa puree tones on top of a very smooth finish, a very nice wine, but strangely didn’t pair well with any of the offerings, though best with the blue. I would have thought that the bandaged cheddar would have been a natural pairing, but not so — it was kind of like oil and water in my mouth. Maybe a richer less-sharp blue, like a Roquefort, might “explode in the mouth” the way the wine distributer described happening with the best pairings.

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5:30pm — The 2008 Festival of Cheese is the culmination of each ACS conference, and lately, as the numbers of competition entries has exploded, the festival has become an unbelievable exhibit of American cheese, some of which has been labeled “world class” by chefs and food writers, and all of which is at least pretty good. And you *could* taste all of it — all 1135 entries, plus a few other donated cheeses.

ACS 2008 Festival of Cheese in the Hilton Chicago ballroom

ACS 2008 Festival of Cheese in the Hilton Chicago ballroom


This year’s festival FILLED the Chicago Hilton ballroom. Each category of cheese took several tables to hold them. It’s an amazing feat that the ACS and it’s volunteers pull off, and this year’s production was just as impressive as last year, including a cheese sculpture of the Chicago Skyline. (If you’re interested to learn more about how it was put together, you can read my Dad’s blog entry about it here.)

Liberty Fields Saco Bay Mist -- First Prize Winner!

Liberty Fields Saco Bay Mist -- First Prize Winner!


This was my second FoC, and instead of pinballing from table to table (which I did last year, filling up on buttered bread right at the beginning!), I targeted two tables to focus on: washed rind cheeses, and blue cheeses (of course). I also made sure we got there early enough to get a taste of the Best In Show samples: Snow White Goat Cheddar by Carr Valley Cheese. It was very good, with a nice firm but not dry texture, but it wasn’t bounds beyond some of the very good bandaged and clothbound aged cheddars I’d been tasting through the conference. I wanted to focus on the washed-rind table because there is a proliferation of interesting types in this category, and it seems like there’s a lot of imagination behind their creation. This year I really enjoyed the Winnimere, a super-gooey spoon served cheese packaged like a Vacherin Mont d’Or, wrapped with a spruce band (which I also sampled during the “Smackdown” described above). It featured all the stinky aromas and fruity flavors along with that ultra-gooey texture and no “off-flavors” at all. Certainly it’s not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. As for the blue table, two Rogue River Creamery blues took first and second place this year, same as last year, but I was struck by how many “sharp” blue cheeses are being made, which is a very different flavor profile than I’m going for in my cheeses because it tends to dominate in the back of the throat and in the nose when you’re eating it

Still, despite targeting my tasting, and making sure to take breaks by getting pictures of some of the Maine award winners (as above), I was “cheesed out” after about an hour. My Dad had spent all day cutting cheeses, so it was amazing that he lasted that long. We happily floated out of the ornate Hilton lobby, and carefully strolled down the sidewalk and then around the corner to our hotel where we happily watched the Cubs on TV and prepared to check-out first thing the next morning. After all, we had to stop at the Cheese Sale before leaving town!

Trip To France Planned

Janet’s Agriculture Tour to France was planned for early spring 2009, but has been re-scheduled for 2010; check in with at the Guild web site for more information about dates and updated itineraries.

Maine Cheese Guild France Trip Proposal:

February 22 – March 3, 2009
Day 1 – Sunday 22nd Feb – Depart from Logan Airport to catch our overnight flight to Paris. Relax with
In flight meal service and entertainment.
Day 2 – Monday 23rd Feb Arrive Paris, and transfer to hotel in Paris city center “the City of Lights” is truly one of the world’s great cities. Although it has a population of over 10 million, the historic core of the city is largely untouched by modern development. Its broad boulevards and wide open spaces create stunning vistas punctuated by world famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.
This afternoon there will be a guided panoramic sightseeing tour of the city including the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde and Notre Dame Cathedral. Welcome dinner tonight. O/N PARIS (D)
Day 3 – Tuesday 24th Feb Early departure from hotel this morning to visit Rungis Market in the south of Paris, the largest wholesale market in France. It has a surface area of 320 hectares and employs 15,000 to facilitate the flow of millions of tons of produce, meat, cheese, poultry and even flowers. Rungis is a distribution point of food not only for France but for many European countries. France produces more than 250 different cheeses – the selection is endless. There will be a guided tour of the market followed by breakfast with a chance to sample some the local produce being sold.
Afterwards continue heading south passing through the rural regions of Isle de France and Champagne en route to Burgundy with a visit featuring a number of well known cheese makes including Brie and Coloumiers. Lunch included at a Ferme Auberge.
This afternoon continue south visiting en route a dairy farm producing a number of specialty cheeses of this region – St Florentin and Soumaintrain
Arrive later to this afternoon in Dijon. Famed for its spicy mustard produced here, Dijon is the ancient capital of Burgundy. The region, of course, is renowned for its fabulous wine and cheese. Dijon is the perfect place to enjoy these delicacies along with its many fine buildings and old world charm.

O/N DIJON (BLD)

Day 4 – Wednesday 25th Feb Depart Dijon this morning and continue south traveling through the famous Cote D’Or (Gold Coast) wine producing region on Burgundy. En route make a stop at a vineyard for a tour of the winery and wine-tasting. A lunch stop will be made in the town of Beaune, an important wine producing centre. The town still retains its defensive city walls as well as many other attractive medieval features. This afternoon continue south through Charolles region of Burgundy where there will be a visit to a goat farm which produces goat cheeses such as Le Charolais and L’Alexou. O/N Clermont Ferrand (BD)

Day 5 – Thursday 26th Feb Today there will be a full day program visiting a number of cheese producers in the Auvergne region. Lunch included today.

Visit Laiterie de la Montagne in St Nectaire which produces a number of cheeses typical to this area including St Nectaire, Cantal and Fourme d’Ambert. Visit Gaec de Joli Bois, a farm with Montbeliarde Cattle (known as the cheese maker breed in France) also producing St Nectaire Cheese. O/N Clermont Ferrand (BL)

Day 6 – Friday 27th Feb Depart the Auvergne today and head north towards the Loire Valley. The Loire is France’s longest river stretching east to west for over 600 miles. The mild climate and fertile alluvial soil make this a region well suited for growing fruit, vines and vegetables. In addition the region is home to a unique concentration of chateaux, some of the most extravagant and stunning examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture to be found in all of Europe. Today we visit La Fromagerie Jacquin, which makes a large range of cheese from both cow and goat’s milk.

This afternoon there will be a visit to the Chateau of Chenonceaux. With its elegant arches spanning the river Cher, Chenonceaux is for many the most visually appealing of all chateaux along the Loire valley.

O/N AMBOISE = (BD)

Day 7 – Saturday 28th Feb Depart the Loire Valley this morning and continue journey north to Normandy, a region of patchwork fields, lush rolling pastures, dairy cattle and apple orchards. Visit Graindorge cheese factory in Livarot maker of some of the best known cheese brands of this region including Camembert, Livarot and Pont L’Eveque. Lunch included today. Arrive in Caen mid-afternoon with the rest of the day free for independent sightseeing and shopping. O/N CAEN (BLD)

Day 8 – Sunday 1st March This morning there will be an opportunity to visit St Pierre Farmer’s Market in Caen with over 400 stalls to browse. Afterwards depart for an excursion to Mont Saint Michel, the great monastery island-fortress that seems to rise out of the sea from the vast Bay of Mont St Michel. This is one of the most famous sights of all France. We tour the little town and visit the medieval Abbey, built atop the rocky hillside.

O/N CAEN (BD)

Day 9 – Monday 2nd March Depart Caen for a visit to a farm growing apples for the production of cider and calvados including an opportunity for tasting.

Continue to Rouen, the city infamous for being where Joan of Arc was burnt on the cross in 1431. Although badly bombed during the war, the city has been carefully restored and is one of the most attractive cities of northern France, featuring a magnificent medieval cathedral.

On arrival there will be free time for lunch and an opportunity for some independent sightseeing and shopping. Depart this afternoon for Paris.

There will be a farewell dinner cruise tonight on the Bateaux Mouches. With most of the major monuments illuminated at night, cruising along the Seine in a glass topped boat is a great way to enjoy Paris in its most romantic setting. FYI – This will be a highlight of the trip, creating memories you will never forget. O/N PARIS (BD)

Day 10 – Tuesday 3rd March Depart for airport to return to Boston

Tour Includes:

Round trip air from Boston to Paris

8 hotel nights based on sharing twin room (3/4*)

8 breakfasts 7 dinners and 3 lunches (As indicated by BLD on the itinerary)

Coach services for duration of tour as specified on itinerary

Guided sightseeing of: Paris, Mont Saint Michel

Entrances to: Chenonceau, Mont Saint Michel

All farm and technical visits

Guided tour of Rungis market (including breakfast)

Wine tasting (Cote d’Or) & Calvados tasting (Normandy)

Services of Stita tour manager

Tips and gratuities for included services

Baggage handling in hotels, 1 piece per person

Not Included:

Transportation to Logan Airport – Suggest Concord Trailways from Portland

Gratuities for driver, escort and local guides

Any other meals not listed in itinerary and any personal expenses.

Prices Per Person:

Double Occupancy $3215.00 = $550.00 Single Supplement

CONDITIONS & RESPONSIBILITY

TO MAKE RESERVATIONS: A deposit of $500.00 per person is due with Reservation Form by July 15. The balance will be due no later than November 17, 2008. We will contact you prior to that date to reconfirm the final payment in the event there is an increase due to a fuel surcharge by the airline.

CANCELLATION POLICY:

We reserve the right to cancel if minimum passengers (25) are not booked, or to assess a surcharge with the group’s approval. If our agency cancels the trip, your deposit is fully refundable. If you cancel after deposit and prior to final payment, $100.00 pp is non refundable. No refund after final payment. Therefore, we strongly urge you to purchase cancellation insurance for your protection. Please check if you want insurance on the reservation form and a form will be forwarded to you.

RESPONSIBILITY:

Dube Carlson Wagonlit Travel is acting only as an agent for the passenger and therefore accepts no responsibility for any delayed departures or arrivals, missed connections, loss or damage, or injury to person or property. Dube Travel and STITA Tours reserve the right to change the itinerary and substitute arrangements of any equal value, if in their opinion circumstances warrant change.

SPACE IS LIMITED – Send your Reservation and Deposit Soon!

Guild Wins 17 Ribbons at 2007 ACS

Cheese makers of the Maine Cheese Guild won 17 ribbons including six blue ribbons for first place in their category at the 2007 American Cheese Society (ACS) Competition. Ten of the participating Guild cheese makers won at least one award. The judging took place at the annual ACS Conference, held in Burlington, VT this year, and included a record 1208 cheeses entered from 200 North American cheese producers making this the largest US cheese competition in history.

The winners from Maine competed in a broad range of categories and styles using cow’s, goat’s , and sheep’s milk, several of them organic. Because the competition provides useful feedback to cheese makers from the judging in addition to the chance to win a nationally recognized award for their efforts. This is the first year that the Guild organized as a group, with help from the Maine Department of Agriculture and other supporters, to generate as many competition entries as possible, which resulted in over 30 entries from Guild members up from 5 entries in 2006.
The ribbons were awarded on August 3rd in the Emerald Ball Room of the Sheraton Burlington in front of hundreds of conference participants including many of the competing cheese makers. Mid-way through the ceremony, after Maine Cheese Guild members had won several of their awards, the announcer commented to the crowd, “it’s nice to see so many new names appearing as winners this year.”

2007 American Cheese Society Competition Award Winners from the Maine Cheese Guild are:

key:Maine Cheese Guild Member, Location, Place, Ribbon Description, Cheese Name, Category Description, ACS Category

Appleton Creamery, Appleton, 1, 1st Place, Sheep Yogurt, Cultured Milk Products / Cultured Products Made from Sheep’s Milk, QS

Hahn’s End, Phippsburg, 1, 1st Place, City of Ships, American Made / International Style / Open Category Made From Cow’s Milk, DC

Oak Leaf Creamery, Kennebunk, 1, 1st Place, Roja, American Originals / Monterey Jack – Cows Milk, CJ

Pinelands Farm, New Gloucester, 1, 1st Place, Onion-Garlic Jack, American Originals / Monterey Jack – Cows Milk, CJ

Silvery Moon Creamery, Westbrook, 1, 1st Place, Tuscan Herbed Curd, Marinated Cheeses / Open Category Made From Cow’s Milk, PC

York Hill Farm, New Sharon, 1, 1st Place, Chevre Roll – Green Peppercorn & Nutmeg, Flavored Cheeses / Cheeses Flavored with Crushed or Whole Peppercorns or Savory Spices, KP

Hahn’s End, Phippsburg, 2, 2nd Place, Eleanor Buttercup, American Made / International Style / Open Category Made From Cow’s Milk, DC

Hahn’s End, Phippsburg, 2, 2nd Place, Ragged Island, American Made / International Style / Open Category Made From Cow’s Milk, DC

Liberty Field Farm, Saco, 2, 2nd Place, Feta, Feta Cheeses / Feta Made From Goat’s Milk, IG

Silvery Moon Creamery, Westbrook, 2, 2nd Place, Creme Fraiche, Cultured Milk Products / Creme Fraiche Products Made From Cow’s Milk, QF

Sunset Acres Farm & Dairy, Brooksville, 2, 2nd Place, Boulette (herbed) Fresh, Fresh Goat’s Milk Cheeses / Flavor Added: Spices Herbs Seasonings Fruits, NF

York Hill Farm, New Sharon, 2, 2nd Place, Chevre Roll – Black Peppercorn & Garlic, Flavored Cheeses / Open Category Made from Goat’s Milk, KG

York Hill Farm, New Sharon, 2, 2nd Place, Chevre Roll – Dill & Garlic, Fresh Goat’s Milk Cheeses / Flavor Added: Spices Herbs Seasonings Fruits, NF

Monroe Cheese Studio, Monroe, 3, 3rd place, Blue Thistle, Blue Mold Cheeses / Blue-Veined Made From Cow’s Milk, FC

Painted Pepper Farm, Steuben, 3, 3rd Place, Dairy Delights Goat’s Milk Yogurt – Plain (certified organic), Cultured Milk Products / Yogurts Made from All Milks, QY

Pinelands Farm, New Gloucester, 3, 3rd Place, Salsa Jack, American Originals / Monterey Jack with Flavors – Cows Milk, CP

Sunset Acres Farm & Dairy, Brooksville, 3, 3rd Place, Fresh Chevre Cranberry/Honey, Fresh Goat’s Milk Cheeses / Flavor Added: Spices Herbs Seasonings Fruits, NF

According to the ACS web site, in order to qualify for the competition, cheesemakers and their products must meet the following basic criteria:

* Entering companies must hold current membership and be “in good standing” with the ACS.
* Cheeses entered into the competition must have been available for sale to the general public at least 12 months prior to the competition.
* Cheeses entered into the competition must be characteristic of the accepted guidelines for the category in which the cheeses are entered.

Entries are judged by teams of technical and aesthetic judges, with each team scoring the individual entry based on a cumulative point system. In order to be eligible for a First, Second, or Third place ribbon, scores must meet a minimum number of points for each level. If no entries meet the minimum score for a placement level, such as first or second place, then an award is not given for that level.

Point total ties were recognized for second and third place, but first place ribbons were given only to a single cheese in each category.