American Cheese Society Conference Recap

Vermont American Cheese Societyguest author: Flavio DeCastilhos of Tumalo Farms * * * * * *

I have only been to two American Cheese Society (ACS) conferences, last year's and now this year's. My general impression - and that of most people to whom I spoke - was that we were impressed with the attendance, events, quantity and quality of the cheeses showcased at the conference and competition.

Once again ACS broke a number of records. 200 producers from 30 states and Canada entered 1,208 cheeses into the competition. That's 250 cheeses more than last year's record. The number of cheeses actually bypassed the number of entries in the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association's (WCMA) competition, so as it turned out, the ACS became largest competition in the USA.

Most importantly, this year the whole event seem to have run on a tighter schedule. The judges went through the competition within the allocated (2 days) time frame; last year they had to use an additional 1/2 day to get through all of the cheeses. Chefs John O'Toole and Arnold Joy of the Atlantic Culinary Academy brought crews and helped with the receiving and judging days, which made a big difference. Of course, there were plenty of ACS volunteers who made things move quickly and kept the competition running on time. In fact, this year they were able to have a hard copy of the results available to the entrants right after the final winners' announcement. Overall, I think everyone looked a bit more relaxed and I would venture to say they all enjoyed themselves more than last year (where everyone looked a little dazed with the stress of trying to get things done).

Oregon had an absolutely terrific show. Oregon cheese makers captured a total of 22 awards (7 - 1st places, 8 - 2nd places, and 7 - 3rd places); or two more 1st places than last year. For Tumalo Farms it went better than expected. We sell a lot of our Classico, but it had never received a single award. We were hoping to get any placement and were lucky enough for Classico to win 1st place. The 1st place for the Fenacho (which had won 2nd place last March at the WCMA) and a 3rd for the Antigo were really an extra touch. These awards validate our efforts, add credibility and reassures our current and future customers that we are making excellent cheeses. Not bad for some unknowns from the high desert sticks side of the country.

The Oregon Cheese Guild and Dairy Farmers of Oregon also sponsored a dinner cruise on Lake Champlain. The cruise sold out and a number of the Guild's cheeses were available, in addition to the wonderful cuisine of Oregon. Unfortunately for me, I was not patient enough to wait in line for the food, got caught into a number of conversations and by the time I looked for the food, it was almost gone! The Dinner cruise also included "lost" pages from Lewis and Clark's Diary that described  Oregon cheeses, food and of course Rogue Ales beer. I certainly had fun, and I hope everyone else did as well.

Next year's conference will be held in Chicago - I hope to see everyone there.