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August 28th, 2007


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08:15 am - Ten awesome cheeses that I tasted at this year's show
I should mention that with 1208 cheeses in the room, I have to concentrate professionally on the ones I don't know. These are the best cheeses I tasted this year at the American Cheese Society Festival of Cheese, but you will notice only one California cheese on this list. Duh, I know all of them! I had to save my pallet.

I mean, look at all that cheese! This is just one tiny section, not even 1/100th of the total.
Festival of Cheese 11

ok, here we go:

1. Leelanau Aged Raclette, Michigan. Won best in Show and I voted for it. Pungent, rich, earthy, and fruity. The flavor jumped out at me despite (because of?) the fact that I'd tasted 200 cheeses in the previous 36 hours. Someday I hope to actually be able to buy this cheese but from what I've heard, this cheese is so small production that it's difficult to get even in Michigan. They also make a younger Raclette which is very good, but this aged one is transcendent.

2. Beecher's Flagship Reserve, Washington. Won second place in the competition. Unlike the regular Flagship cheddar, which is wonderful in its own right, this is a traditionally made, bandage-wrapped cheddar aged about 18 months. Most cheddars are made in a massive 560 lb. square, subdivided into 40 lb. blocks and aged in plastic. Some great cheddars are made this way, but cheese made in cheesecloth and rotated in an aging room ages faster, and tends to be much earthier, full flavored and distinctive. This is a great addition to the few US versions of this cheese, Joining the Fiscalini 18 and 30 month, Bravo Silver Mountain, and the Cabot/Jasper Hill cheese that won the ACS competition last year. The Fiscalini 30 month, in particular, challenges the best Neal's Yard imported cheddars in terms of flavor and quality.

3. Estrella Family Creamery, Washington. These folks are quietly making some of the best cheese in the country. The Caldwell Crik Chevrette is a stinky washed-rind goat/cow blend that many customers simply refuse to believe isn't high-quality French cheese. Dominoes is a Tomme De Savoie-type cow's milk cheese, earthy, milky, and with flavor that you keep think is about to end but doesn't. It's named after one of their favorite cows, Domino. Domino's daughter, Darla, is the namesake of the Red Darla, a washed-rind Dominoes that is super pungent, rich and amazing. I can't tell you why none of these cheeses medalled but the one cheese of theirs that I judged took first place in it's category.

4. Pholia Farm, Oregon. Milk from Nigerian dwarf goats. Solar-powered and off-the-grid. I tried the Elk Mountain at a regional tasting and thought it was the best aged goat cheese I had at the conference. This stuff is also almost impossible to find but everything they make is amazing. If you see anything under their name, buy it.

5. Dante, Wisconsin. Aged sheep milk cheese from the Wisconsin sheep farmer co-op. Nutty, sweet, and smooth. There aren't many sheep cheeses like this made in the US. It's seasonal, so grab it when you see it.

6. Beehive Barely Buzzed Cheddar, Utah. Ok, you know how I feel about the "cheese with stuff in it" category. But I really like this cheese. The rind is rubbed with coffee and lavender and that bitter, flowery bite works really well with what is now a nicely aged cheddar. When I tasted an early version of this cheese a year ago, the cheese was too mild to stand up to the rind but it's an almost perfect combination now. Like all flavored products it's not for everyone, but I saw a lot of judges surprised how much they liked this seemingly novelty cheese.

7. Le Chevre Noir, Quebec. Basically this is a goat cheddar. But it's not some we'll-make-it-out-of-goat-milk-and-people-will-be-so-desperate-for-it-they-won't-care-what-it-tastes-like goat cheddar. This is the real thing, perfectly aged, sweet and sharp with a goaty tang. This cheese has been underrated for way too long. Since we're talking Quebec, there are many other French Canadian cheeses that will never make it to the Bay Area for various reasons,. Le Rebelle was my favorite this year, a pungent washed-rind oozy thing that I'll have to wait until next year's ACS to taste again. Sigh.

8. Truffle Tremor, California. This wasn't in the competition because it is only just now being sold commercially. It's from Humboldt County, made by Cypress Grove and it's basically their well-known Humboldt Fog, but instead of ash, it's truffled. It's a slightly smaller wheel too, probably to keep the per-piece price reasonable. If you've had the fog, this cheese will be just what you expect: tangy, earthy, mushroomy, and covered by a delicate brie-style rind.

9. Hope Farm Tomme de Brebis, Vermont. Seasonal and rare, we carried this for about five minutes last year. Semi-soft, earthy, nutty and rich I can't wait to get more. I wish there were ten times as many sheep dairies in the US and that they were all as good as Hope Farm, Bellwether, Vermont Shepherd, and the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op.

10. Cabot Butter (salted), Vermont. So perfect that I considered for best in show. It's funny, because I love the Sierra Nevada organic vat-cultured butter (Sierra Nevada still makes the best cream cheese in the country), and the Vermont Butter and Cheese butter, but this was really perfect.

I will end with a picture that sums up the polished showmanship and pageantry that is the annual ACS awards ceremony. Why it isn't televised live on the Food Channel I'll never know.
The pageantry of the ACS awards ceremony
Current Music: CH3 - "After the lights go out"

(45 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:saltbox
Date:August 28th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
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Oh wow, I need to find a good local (alas for me meaning Wisconsin, not Michigan) raclette cheese. I just picked up a raclette grill/maker/whateveryoucallit in Germany and really want to try using it! There's a new artisanal cheese store that just opened up in town, so maybe I can find something there.
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From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC)
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well, get that if you can. The Knightsvale from Rothkase (soon to be rBST-free) can do in a pinch. Actually, the Brick Cheese from Widmer probably can too.
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From:saltbox
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
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Hmm, I hadn't thought of the Widmer brick cheese--I've had that before, and it's pretty tasty. There's also one stand at the farmer's market whose name I forget but it makes a good raw milk brick cheese as well.
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From:beer_retard
Date:August 28th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
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Cool to see Beecher's on your list. I've never tried the Reserve, but the plain old Flagship has a regular spot in my fridge at home. Also, Beecher's is close to where I work and I've been getting addicted to the Flagship sandwich, their grilled cheese with tomato and basil. Pretty tasty.
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From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC)
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yeah, their cheese is so good I pretend to ignore the "No Woman" one.
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From:exterra
Date:August 30th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
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if you live in seattle, get some of the estrella cheeses at local farmer's markets.. they let you taste them too :). i'm not sure which ones they make the rounds at but last eyar they came to the one on 20th off madison.
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From:pantryslut
Date:August 28th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
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You say Dante is seasonal -- what season?
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From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
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it's made february-september, sold august-until it runs out.
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From:graciebaby_
Date:August 28th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
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too funny. I thought of you while I was in Sturgis.

One of our friends went to the "Dakotamart" for groceries and brought back to camp this HEAVENLY cheese made by a local dairy.

It was THE yummiest I'd tasted and out of the blue, I thought of you.

Wish I knew the name of that damn cheese.

[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
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awwwww. I wish you knew the name too.
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From:slantedtruth
Date:August 28th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)
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oooh i have had le chevre noir. it is so yum!
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC)
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Tournevent makes great cheese. Yay for your people!
[User Picture]
From:slantedtruth
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
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yes, yay for my people!
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From:carolc
Date:August 28th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Aw, man. I want to try all those cheeses and I bet I'll never see a single one around here.
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From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:08 pm (UTC)
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Sweet Grass dairy and Meadow Creek Dairy aren't too far from Florida and they both make great cheese from (really!) pasture-based cows and goats.
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From:carolc
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:19 pm (UTC)
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Oh, we love Sweet Grass Dairy! They actually sell at our farmers' market, too, so sometimes we get interesting odds and ends or small-run experiments. So hey, you've reminded me to be grateful for what I do have.

I don't think I've seen Meadow Creek, though.
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
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If it's actually the Sweet Grass folks at the market, tell 'em you're my friend. They're some of my favorite cheese folks.

Meadow Creek is from Virginia so it's not as close (and I am realizing that they are only relatively close to you, not actually close). Their Grayson is awesome (stinky taleggio style, raw milk) and their other cheeses are good.
[User Picture]
From:carolc
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC)
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I *think* the guy at the market just sells for them at markets. He's really nice, though--definitely good people.

I wish I knew the names of the random stuff we've tried--I remember one very ugly, very aged goat cheese that was just incredible, like a super-aged Gouda.

Aw, crap, now I want cheese.
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:28 pm (UTC)
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did you get to try their "Synergy"? that was an awesome (if unpredictible) cheese.)
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From:carolc
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
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Also, when I visit my in-laws, they live about 5 miles from here:

http://www.smilinghill.com/Dairy_Store_cheese.html

Very fun place to visit, and the cheese is good.
From:serazin
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
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Just for the record, the cheese posts are my favorite (with the possible exception of the black bloc embedded video yesterday). I say this because these posts sometimes get fewer comments, so I thought you should know.
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
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awww thanks, that's actually very sweet.

and I have watched that black bloc video about 5 times now. I love it.
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From:effluvia
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:17 pm (UTC)
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The last picture along with your commentary made me lol. It looks like a rockin' group.
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From:gordonzola
Date:August 29th, 2007 12:25 am (UTC)
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It has its moments!
[User Picture]
From:exterra
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:23 pm (UTC)
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washington represent! the estrella family comes to the farmers market a block from my (now old) house. they give free samples too!! we love them, though in small quantities bcs oh-so expensive.
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 29th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC)
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oh man, I'm sure it's cheaper at the market! Still, the ones I named are soooooo good.
From:fromager
Date:August 28th, 2007 09:30 pm (UTC)

Thanks

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for the great pic of me Gordo....

steve
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 28th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks

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I love that picture!

Hey, do you have any of me since you seem to be pointing the camera in my direction there?
From:thisisthenow
Date:August 28th, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC)
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Oh! Oh! I'm so excited. I have actually been to Hope Farm before (a friend worked there last summer) and I have had a couple of their cheese offerings.

Oh, I feel so cool. I usually feel like such a cheese dummy reading your journal. Can I be kinda cool now?
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 29th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC)
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Hope Farm, that's extra cool!
From:thisisthenow
Date:August 29th, 2007 08:39 am (UTC)
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I also went to a farmer's market in Lebanon, NH and got cheese from Cobb Hill...I tried their Acushney (sp?) cheese. That was nice too!
[User Picture]
From:ilipodscrill
Date:August 28th, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC)
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great post! it's as if i were there ;)
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From:gordonzola
Date:August 29th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
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I wish you had been there. I get lonely at these without my people.
[User Picture]
From:nunofthat
Date:August 29th, 2007 02:09 am (UTC)
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When I try to tell people about the festival of bizarro world they never believe me. "And there was a table devoted to smoked cheeses... and then there was a whole table filled with just butter..." I will describe excitedly, and wave my hands around wildly and everything, but still they do not believe.
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 29th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
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send 'em to my flickr page with the ACS2007 tag!

oh and here's you in the bar that we drank out of beer:
J in hotel bar
[User Picture]
From:oneroom
Date:August 29th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC)
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Go Beecher's!
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 29th, 2007 03:15 am (UTC)
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You know, I expect more verbiage from Kozikowski's niece.
[User Picture]
From:oneroom
Date:August 29th, 2007 03:34 am (UTC)
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Grand niece. Or great niece. Or whathaveyou.

I swear I remember you turning your nose up at Beecher's with a little "whatever, they're alright I guess." I am very pleased to see my (adopted) hometown favorites coming in for a win, even if it's with their fancy cheese.
[User Picture]
From:exterra
Date:August 30th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
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check out estrella family farms too - they're also local and sold at some farmers markets and DAMN good.
[User Picture]
From:never_the_less
Date:August 29th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
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Hello! You are a friend of 1/2 of my friends list, and someone just mentioned you again after I posted a cheese pic in my journal, and I thought to myself, ah, I've been meaning to add that guy forever! (have seen a few "if you don't read gordonzola already, you should check out his post on" links)

So anyway, I have added you! Also, I am no cheese whiz (ah, sorry to make the obvious bad pun when I don't even know you), but I have two days left in Montreal -- anything I should really not leave without trying? (if you don't mind my asking)
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 30th, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)
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aw, thanks for adding me.

I would just go to a scary-looking cheese shop and look for something stinky, oozy and raw milk. the Le Rebelle I mentioned above was excellent, but there were lots of good ones(that I didn't bother to write down the names of because we can't get them here.)

I linked to another really good one last year, but I can't find the entry.
[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:August 30th, 2007 12:59 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]
From:experimentego
Date:August 30th, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
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Oh God, I want some of that Chevre Noir. I used to be allergic to cow's milk and therefore spent my first two years of existence living only on goat products.

Anything to relive my childhood.
[User Picture]
From:matrushkaka
Date:September 17th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
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Hi there - I found you via a Google search for "unpasteurized raw milk cheeses." I wish I'd found you earlier as I would have liked to go to that ACS cheese festival!

Anyway - I'm a graphic designer/food photographer living in the Bay Area. I often shop @ Rainbow - you guys have great cheeses. Glad I found your blog, I've been wanting to learn more about cheese in general - I'm still rather intimidated by it!

[User Picture]
From:gordonzola
Date:September 17th, 2007 04:49 am (UTC)
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Great! glad you found me. say hi if you see me while cheese shopping.

and there's lots of cheese info here if you found me via my website http://www.gordonzola.net/
because the blog there links to my lj cheese tag entries. Hott all cheese action!

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