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