Last month I went up to Montreal for the ACS Conference. Before I go any further I have to give a great big thank you to Christine Hyatt for the generous offer of sharing her hotel suite. If you don't know, Christine is the current President of ACS, and the awesomeness behind the website Cheese-Chick. I shared a room with Kirsten and Kathleen and really enjoyed meeting those cheese-loving gals in person.
The ACS was formed in 1983 and held it's first competition in 1985 where a total of 89 cheeses were entered. This year there were almost 1700 different entries. What really made this year different was that it was the first time that the ACS has been held out of the U.S.A. Even though I've been a member since 2008, this was only my second time attending a full conference and it was a blast!
The seminars were educational, provocative (the debate between raw milk and pasteurized is never-ending) and fun; seeing and chatting with people I haven't seen in months or years was great; but of course I spent a lot of my time
Since the conference was held in Canada it was a great opportunity to try cheeses that you can't find in the States-including the world famous Oka cheese. While tasting cheese is fantastic there are two events people I get most excited about: the awards ceremony and the festival of cheese.
The awards ceremony is when a cheesemaker gets to find out how well their entry fared. Unlike many cheese competitions, there is no guarantee of a first place winner in a category. The ACS grades cheese on a "must have" point value. If it take 95 points to be a contender for 1st place and none of the cheeses in that category gets 95 points, there's no first place winner. With this point system in place it means that sometimes there are ties for second or third place, and still no blue ribbon handed out. Rogue Creamery won Best of Show (for the second time) this year, making that the second cheese to ever win Best of Show twice (Pleasant Ridge Reserve is the other, having won three times)
The festival of cheese is an overwhelming night of cheese, wine and beer. Every single product that was entered in the competition (from kefir and yogurt to farmstead bandaged cheddar) is available to taste. With almost 1700 entries this year you had to plan my tasting strategically-I usually start with the yogurt and feta and work my way to the strong, peppery blues and funky, stinky washed rind cheeses. Walking into the room where the festival is held is always a bit of an olfactory overload, but I love it.
This year I volunteered at the conference and was one of many who helped to set up the cheese displays for that nights' festival. This was my first year volunteering and I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'm a quick learner, listened to what some seasoned volunteers told me, and have some tips to help you all should you decide to volunteer.
1. Try not to get the cheddar table. When cheesemakers submit their cheeses they have to submit it in the original form. Many cheesemakers make 40# block cheddars. Cheddar (generally) is white or orange. Creating an asthetically appealing table from huge block of white and orange is a substantial challenge.
2. The soft-ripened table is awesome! Bloomy rinds as far as the eye can see. Since these cheeses don't do as well sitting out for hours before consumed, you've got to have some fast hands and team coordination in order to make the display.
3. The table of blues is by far the messiest. You'll be picking blue cheese crumbles out of your pants, shirt and bra.
4. Unless you want to attract all the dogs in the neighborhood with your new scent, try to stay away from the smoked table. The table I worked on was right next to the smoked table and it just made me want kielbasa all day long.
I was on the flavored cheese table. A lot of flavored cheeses are things you would expect like pepperjack and cumin studded goudas. We tried a lot of different cheeses while setting up. Some were good, and some were bad, but there's one that stood out in my mind and mouth as one of the weirdest things that's happened to my taste buds in years.
PINA COLADA CHEESE
It was bad. Really bad. Now to be fair, it DID taste like its name would have you believe. The first bite was mild, and I didn't get much pineapple or coconut flavor. Then it hit me. Since I'm used to pineapple and coconut being put together in a large glass with an excessive amount of rum this was a shock. It's solid form made my mouth unhappy and confused my brain. I have been trying to think of how one could use this cheese, or even if one should. I've come up with no answers. I won't tell you to never eat it, but I will caution you to think twice. If anyone has had this cheese, and knows a few tasty ways it can be applied in a recipe please let me know.
Stay tuned, part two will have photos, new and tasty cheeses and the most overwhelming plate of poutine that I could find.
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