On Friday night I sat at a table in a Burlington (VT) Sheraton banquet hall listening to the awards for the American Cheese Society Competition being announced. When they got to the “Blue Veined — Cows Milk” category, I was really curious to find out who won because I had tasted a lot of good blue cheese since I had arrived at the conference on Wednesday. The first cheesemaker announced, winning third place out of the 40 entries, was “Monroe Cheese Studio.”
“Whoa!” I thought, “Who else is using that name?!?!”
It wasn’t until the Maine Cheese Guild members I was sitting with started slapping me on the back that I realized that it was ME. I needed to get up and walk to the awards table and pick up a white ribbon. Because I was SURE that my yogurt (the other product I entered into competition) would win an award (it didn’t!) and felt really bad about the blue cheese I had entered because it wasn’t “perfect” or as perfect as I wished it had been. I almost didn’t send it, afraid that I might embarrass the Guild, but I had already paid the entry fee, and there would be no difference in the shipping fee since the Guild had hired someone to drive all of the entries to Burlington all at once. So, reluctantly, I wrapped the cheese, fixed the competition stickers onto the wrapping, and stuffed it into the styrofoam shipping cooler along with the yogurt.
Overall the Maine Cheese Guild did really well: we won 17 ribbons, including 6 first places. There were a record 1,208 entries (up from 900 and some entries in 2006) from 200 producers in 30 states which made it the largest cheese competition EVER held in the U.S.
Festival of Cheese at the ACS
As exciting as it was for all of us Maine cheese makers cheering each time they named one of us to come to the podium, the big event was the next day when they piled a sample of each of the competition entries into multiple mountains of cheese for everyone to sample, along with some really good micro-brew (from Oregon — a conference sponsor — and from Vermont). Wow. Pictured above is less than HALF of the table holding all the “Soft Ripened Cheeses” entries, and that is only one of 22 categories! The pile of cheddar samples climbed well over my head. I got to watch people trying my cheese (and taking pictures of it’s label with their camera phones), and I did reach a stopping point about an hour and a half after diving into that heavenly event. I thought that maybe I wouldn’t want to eat another crumb of curd for a long time, but the next morning I was scooping up chevre and mascarpone at a get-away reception.